Growing up, “the Barbary coast” and the “Barbary pirates” always held such mystery and intrigue, so I was more than excited to see the Barbary Apes when we visited Gibraltar a few weeks ago.
Barbary ape is a misnomer; they are monkeys. Macaques to be exact. These macaques have stubby tails and come from the northern coast of Africa. No one is sure how they first arrived in Gibraltar, but I’m putting my money on those pesky pirates.
The Barbary apes are an iconic part of visiting “the Rock.” In fact, legend has it that if ever the Barbary apes leave the rock, then the British will leave as well. As it is such a strategic point for control over the Mediterranean, this is not a desired outcome. Therefore, once when the monkey population was dwindling, Winston Churchill ordered the retrieval of more monkeys from Africa. Today they are thriving.
We talked with Brian, a primatologist working with the monkeys for 18 years, and he told us quite a bit about them. I had made the comment that there were a lot of babies, and he jumped in and corrected me right away. On average, the monkeys produce around 40 offspring each year, but this year there were only 25. This is not because there was any problem, but instead it is due to the population control program of inserting birth control pellets in the females’ upper arms.
Brian also told us that because the monkeys were vegetarians, they do not carry rabies and therefore have no need to be inoculated for it. They do get an immunization to prevent lice. Because they are often in close contact with humans, and humans are susceptible to lice as well, the authorities feel justified in trying to eradicate that pest. I’m sure everyone that has been to Gibraltar and come close to one of the monkeys is very thankful for it as well. I know I am.
Many signs warn visitors to keep their distance, do not feed the monkeys, and don’t bring any food anywhere near them. Monkeys have been known to jump in the window of a car and make off with whatever catches their fancy, often a plastic bag full of cookies or other goodies. They are completely used to being near humans and have no fear of them, so have also been known to jump on them…and they do bite! But, if you aren’t bringing food, or trying to tempt them, usually they will just leave you alone.
If you go to Gibraltar, you will inevitably go up the rock. Don’t worry, you too will come across many monkeys. Please heed the warnings and do not feed them. There is now a 500 British pound fine if you are caught, but more importantly it is bad for both the animals and the humans that visit them.
Have you been to Gibraltar? Have you been entertained by the Barbary Apes?