The Barbary macaques of Gibraltar are the only wild monkeys in Europe and are a treasured part of the Rock.
Originally from North Africa, these fascinating creatures have an intriguing history in Gibraltar.
Do you want to know more about Gibraltar monkeys?
In this article, we will share some fun facts anyone needs to know about these charming creatures situated in Gibraltar.
What are Gibraltar Monkeys?
The barbary macaque is the only monkey species found in Europe. This monkey species reside in groups (or troops) led by a dominant female or grandmother. They have a well-defined hierarchy or ranking system, with second and third leaders established under the primary leader.
At first sight, one noticeable trait of macaques is their apparent lack of a tail. However, scientists classify their rear appendage as “vestigial,” indicating that it has evolved over time and no longer serves a necessary function.
The gradual disappearance of the tail could be attributed to the macaque’s adaptation to its environment throughout generations.
The macaques of Gibraltar mostly feed on fruits. They are highly adaptable primates, and some species can coexist with humans in urban areas quite comfortably. However, it’s essential to note that while some macaques may appear intimidating and hostile towards visitors, this is not always the case.
Where do Gibraltar Monkeys come from
The macaques of Gibraltar are originally from Morocco and the Rif Mountains. However, the exact manner in which they came to Gibraltar remains a mystery. Many theories have speculated that these intelligent primates were brought over by traveling Moors as exotic pets.
Since their arrival, and following the peninsula being given to Britain in 1713, the macaques have notably impacted Gibraltar’s history. During World War II, Winston Churchill famously instructed the colonial secretary to “maintain the monkeys’ troops thereafter” by finding means to improve the macaque population.
The Barbary macaques are a breed of primates that originate from North Africa, where
they were discovered among the Berber peoples. They earned their name due to this association with the region’s native inhabitants
The Macaque population in their natural habitat of North Africa is decreasing, leading to them being classed as endangered since 2008 – a concerning fact worth noting.
Where to see Gibraltar Monkeys
If you find yourself in Gibraltar, make sure to check out the Barbary Macaques. These playful primates are a must-see attraction among visitors, alongside the impressive military tunnels and the charming British-style town on the Spanish coast.
These playful monkeys are always on the lookout for food. Tourists who feed them sweets and junk have made them clever enough to spot humans as potential sources of their favorite treats. Be cautious of your belongings around these naughty creatures, as they may attempt to steal your bag or backpack.
You might even catch them jumping onto people’s rucksacks and trying to open or snatch something when no one is watching. Hats, phones, and sunglasses are also not safe around these sneaky primates.
The monkeys of Gibraltar have been known to engage in some cheeky behavior – they like to nab hats and sunglasses from unsuspecting tourists, only to vanish into the crowd with their precious loot in tow.
Although the monkeys living there are used to tourists and unafraid of them, it’s important to remember that they are still wild animals. In some cases, they may bite if agitated. According to Gibraltar’s legislation, it is illegal to feed the monkeys while roaming in their natural habitats. Violating this rule could lead to a maximum fine of £4,000.
Gibraltar offers a plethora of attractions that do not involve the infamous monkeys. Still, it is essential to exercise caution around these playful creatures regardless of your agenda.
To ensure safe experiences while touring the rock, nature reserve, or cable car, take note of these general guidelines:
Avoid touching them
Although the macaques may seem like friendly creatures, it is important to remember that they are wild animals. Despite their familiarity with humans, they are not gentle and should never be treated as pets. Even when sitting idly on a wall and looking calm, their unpredictable nature can quickly surface.
The monkeys residing atop the rock are accustomed to human presence around their dwelling. However, they do not recognize nor appreciate strangers who attempt to interact with them. Physical contact may elicit anxiety or irritation in these animals, leading them to act aggressively and bite.
Imagine a situation where an unfamiliar person pokes or prods at your body without permission – you would likely respond in a similar manner as the monkeys.
Never feed them
Hand feeding the macaques may have negative long-term effects as it is not only against the law but also unhealthy for them to consume unnatural foods.
Additionally, hand-feeding has made them lose their respect for humans. People bring sweets, nuts, and burgers to them, which makes the animals assume that all passersby must pay tribute. However, this behavior only boosts their ego and hostility towards people.
They are not there for selfies
Many visitors who go to see the macaques find them intriguing and take selfies or try to interact with them. However, the macaques aren’t necessarily fond of our attention- they’ve simply learned to tolerate people in hopes of receiving rewards.
The macaques are always searching for food, which means you need to be cautious about your safety. They may flock around places with humans as it increases their chances of finding fruits and other edibles. By understanding their natural behavior and tendencies, you can better safeguard yourself against potential hazards.
Secure your bags
Macaques are known to be curious creatures. They sometimes mistake bags for treasure boxes that contain delicious treats. If you plan to visit them, it’s best not to bring any bags. If you’re traveling by car, just leave your bags locked up inside.
If one encounters a macaque while carrying food, the best course of action is to hold the food in front of oneself so that the primate has more difficulty reaching it. In case one finds it difficult to assert themselves in such situations, safely moving away would be advised.
Recognize their warning signs
Macaques employ an effective strategy to protect themselves when they feel threatened. Their warning gesture appears like a pouty mouth, known as the Round Mouth Threat (RMT). By this gesture, they try to grab your attention while staring at the offender with raised eyebrows.
The gesture is often wordless, accompanied by a subtle panting sound intended to signal disapproval. This serves as their way of expressing “No” or “Stop.”
If a macaque threatens you by pointing an RMT, stopping any offensive behavior and moving back slowly is essential. Leaning towards the offender may escalate the threat and cause further harm. Walking away gently reassures the macaque that you’re not a threat, which will make it quit making threatening gestures.
Failure to do so can result in the macaque calling for backup or lunging at you, which is best avoided if possible.
Give them some space
Don’t get too close to them or get between an adult monkey and a baby. When irritated or worried by overcrowding or being gazed at from a close distance, macaques will fidget or scratch (this is called Self-Directed Behavior) before displaying an RMT. This is your warning to take a step back. The best technique is to avoid going too close.
Announce yourself to them
Macaques aren’t fond of surprises. As a result, it’s best to avoid trying to sneak up on them. Allow macaques some time to adjust and become familiar with your intentions before approaching them instead. Doing so will prevent any unnecessary fright or startle response.
Avoid stairwells and narrow spaces
Macaques can get defensive and protective when they encounter a human in confined spaces, posing danger to the person. Therefore, it is recommended to take a moment to evaluate the situation before quickly moving away from the area if possible.
What to do if they leap or climb on you
Macaques are used to being around people, and some of the more playful juveniles may even approach and hop on individuals. If you prefer not to have these unexpected visitors, steer clear of railings and walls located near their usual hangouts.
Avoid crouching down next to the monkey children. These behaviors appeal to excited macaques, who will usually take advantage of the situation. Remember that there is no safe way to interact with these animals. They are capable of clawing and biting, if not intentionally, then at least in a fun manner. They are, at best, filthy.
Touching the Macaques is prohibited.
Touching or interfering with the natural behavior of Barbary macaques has long been perceived negatively. To discourage such actions, the government has considered it an offense unless carried out for management, research, or veterinary purposes.
Fun fact: The Gibraltar monkeys are quite notorious for their food heists. Interestingly, they never ask for it; they simply help themselves!
The monkeys in Gibraltar are harmless to human passersby. You need not worry about their food or health, as the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (GVC) oversees their management, and the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS) tends to their medical and dietary needs.
The macaques are provided with fresh water daily, supplemented with vegetables, fruit, and seeds in addition to the natural resources they forage, and regularly examined.
Seeing the Gibraltar monkeys up close is a must for everyone visiting Gibraltar.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lucia is a travel blogger living in Southern Spain, sharing her discoveries of beautiful locations, hidden gems and stunning historic sights on her travel blog Viva La Vita.