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Gibraltar Apes

Gibraltar Apes – Love them or Hate Them, They're Here To Stay!

St michaels Cave GibraltarWhen you are looking to travel to southern Spain and in particularly Gibraltar, there is nothing that epitomises this tiny part of the English sovereignty more than the Gibraltar apes. Otherwise known as Barbary Macaques or Macaca Sylvanus, they are a strange addition to this eclectic cornerstone of southern Europe and are the only wild primates in Europe. Despite their name, rather curiously they are in fact monkeys and not apes.

No one is totally sure how the Macaques came to be here. Some suggest that they arrived here from their native home in Morocco using a subterranean tunnel underneath the Straights of Gibraltar, although it has to be said that no evidence of this tunnel having existed has ever been found. A more likely theory is that they were brought over from the North African continent by the moors who occupied this part of the peninsular between 711 and 1492.

We do know that there is literary evidence to suggest that the Barbary apes in Gibraltar have made their home here since well before the seventeenth century.  Somewhere between 1605 and 1610 Alonso Hernández del Portillo, who was the first chronicler of the territory, wrote in his famous work “The History Of The Very Noble And MostLoyal City of Gibraltar” of the ''true owners of the rock, the monkeys who live on the eastern side of the island in high and inaccessible chasms.” However long they have been, and however they got here, they have certainly learned to adapt, breed and become an integral part of the Gibraltar attractions

St michaels Cave GibraltarLegend has it that as long as the Gibraltar apes reside on the rock it will always remain under British rule. Unfortunately around the time of the Second World War, their numbers fell dramatically. The British Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill, was so alarmed by this that he personally ordered replenishments from both Morocco and indeed Algeria. Since then, their numbers have steadily grown into what we can see today.

The troop that the tourists mainly see is based around the area known as the ‘apes den’ and is known as the Queens Gate group. They are said to be particularly friendly to would be visitors, and are often seen approaching and climbing onto people. In addition to this there are said to be around 250- 300 animals spread amongst 5 troops and they happily occupy the area of the upper rock. The downside of this is that because the Macaques have so much human interaction, there can appear to be a breakdown of the social groups as they become pretty dependent upon humans in order to obtain food. As a result they often venture into the towns on foraging trips. Whilst hunting for tasty morsels they are often witnessed doing damage to property, vehicles and clothing. Because of this the government of Gibraltar now decrees that feeding a Barbary Macaque is against the law and as such, anyone found doing so will be liable for a fine of up to £500.  Having said all this, it is fair to say that the majority of the locals believe that they are an integral part of the history of Gibraltar and should remain so.

For years the colonies of primates were looked after under the guise of the military. Firstly the British Army, and then the Gibraltar regiment up until 1991. An officer was appointed to look after their wellbeing and a budget was allowed for fruit, vegetable and nuts. Following the military withdrawal from Gibraltar, the primates are now looked after by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS).

Anyone looking to travel to Gibraltar simply has to see the spectacle of the Gibraltar apes. They are as much a part of the landscape as the stunning peninsula itself and a trip here wouldn't be the same without them.


Photos By Leo Hayes

Check out this Gibraltar Apes Video:

Created by Gold Productions Studios