Barbary macaques in Gibraltar

Coordinates: 36°07′56″N 5°20′56″W / 36.132248°N 5.348875°W

Gibraltar Barbary Macaque
This young Barbary macaque is part of a group of 25 to 70 individuals from several different monkey families in Gibraltar.

Originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent. Although most populations in Africa are experiencing declining populations due to hunting and deforestation, the population of Barbary monkeys in Gibraltar is increasing. Currently, some 300 animals in five troops occupy the Upper Rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, though they make occasional forays into the town.[1] As they are a tailless species, they are also known locally as Barbary apes or rock apes, despite being monkeys (Macaca sylvanus). The local people simply refer to them as monos (English: monkeys) when conversing in Spanish or Llanito (the local vernacular).


Rock of Gibraltar Barbary Macaque
A Barbary macaque sitting on a fence at the Gibraltar Cable Car top station.

The name Barbary refers to the Berber People of Morocco who since the beginning of history had ties with the animals surrounding their region, as the Barbary macaques. The macaque population had also been present on the Rock of Gibraltar long before Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 and according to records, since prior to reconquest of Gibraltar from the Muslims. It was during the Islamic period where a purported introduction may have taken place.[2] In his work Historia de la Muy Noble y Más Leal Ciudad de Gibraltar (History of the Very Noble and Most Loyal City of Gibraltar), written between 1605 and 1610, Alonso Hernández del Portillo, the first chronicler of Gibraltar, wrote:

But now let us speak of other and living producers which in spite of the asperity of the rock still maintain themselves in the mountain, there are monkeys, who may be called the true owners, with possession from time immemorial, always tenacious of the dominion, living for the most part on the eastern side in high and inaccessible chasms.

In his History of Gibraltar (1782), Ignacio López de Ayala, a Spanish historian like Portillo, wrote of the monkeys:

"Neither the incursions of Moor, the Spaniards nor the English, nor cannon nor bomb of either have been able to dislodge them."[3][4][5]

Repeated introduction of animals and the lack of reliable data concerning founders of the Gibraltar macaque population has obscured their origin. The fact that all extant Gibraltarian mtDNA haplotypes were also found in North Africa, combined with the lack of fossil evidence of M. sylvanus in Gibraltar at the end of the last glaciation, greatly diminishes the possibility that the Gibraltar macaques represent or include any remnant of the original European population, a possibility which can nevertheless not be excluded.[6] Indeed, it had been earlier suggested that the original Gibraltar macaques were a remnant of populations that had spread throughout Southern Europe[7] during the Pliocene, up to 5.5 million years ago.[8] The Macaca sylvanus species is listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and is declining. About 75% of the total population is found in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

During the Pleistocene, this species inhabited the Mediterranean coasts and Europe, reaching as far north as Germany and the British Isles. The species decreased with the arrival of the Ice Age, to extinction in the Iberian Peninsula 30,000 years ago.


Gibraltar Barbary Macaque on a tourist
Although the Barbary macaques form part of tourism in Gibraltar, direct contact with them (as shown in this photograph) is strongly discouraged.

The Gibraltar Barbary macaques are considered by many to be the top tourist attraction in Gibraltar. The most popular troop is that of Queen's Gate at the Ape's Den, where people can get especially close to the monkeys. They will often approach and sometimes climb onto people, as they are used to human interaction. Nevertheless, they are still wild animals and will bite if frightened or annoyed.[9]

Three Gibraltar macaques with stolen Dairy Milk chocolate wrapper
Macaques with a Dairy Milk chocolate bar, having stolen it from a tourist's bag in July 2016.

The macaques' contact with large numbers of tourists was causing the integrity of their social groups to break down, as they began to become dependent on humans. This induced the monkeys to forage in the town, resulting in damage to buildings, clothing, and vehicles.[1] Close contact with humans has also led to the macaques learning how to open pockets and unzip handbags and rucksacks in order to steal food from humans.[10] For these reasons, deliberately feeding the macaques in Gibraltar is now an offence punishable by law. Anyone caught feeding the monkeys is liable to be fined up to £4,000.[11]

Military care

Alfred Holmes with Barbary Macaques
Sgt. Alfred Holmes alongside two Barbary macaques, looking down on the city of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar's Barbary macaque population was under the care of the British Army and later the Gibraltar Regiment from 1915 to 1991, who carefully controlled a population that initially consisted of a single troop. The 'Keeper of the Apes' would keep the official records, maintaining an up-to-date register for each ape, listing their births and names and supervising their diet, which they drew officially every week. The food allowance of fruit, vegetables and nuts was included in the budget, set by the War Office at £4 a month in 1944.[12] They would humorously announce births in the 'Gibraltar Chronicle':— "Rock Apes. Births: To Phyllis, wife of Tony, at the Upper Rock, on 30th June 1942— a child. Both doing well." much to the delight of readers.[13] They were named after governors, brigadiers and high-ranking officers. Any ill or injured monkey needing surgery or any other form of medical attention was taken to Royal Naval Hospital Gibraltar and received the same treatment as would an enlisted service man. When UK-based infantry units were withdrawn and garrison duty was left to the Gibraltar Regiment, the Government of Gibraltar took over responsibility for the monkeys.[14]

Officers in charge

  • Lt Bill Parker[12] of the Royal Artillery (1944 – unknown)
  • Major W O Skelton[13] of the Royal Artillery (circa 1951)
  • Gunner Wilfred[15] Portlock[16][17][18][13][19] of the Royal Artillery Regiment (circa 1940 - 1960)[20]
  • Sgt Alfred Holmes[21] of the Gibraltar Regiment (circa 1958 – circa 1986)
  • Cpl. Ernest Asquez[21] of the Gibraltar Regiment (circa 1986 – 1991)

Royal visit

On 11th May 1954, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the ape packs while on a visit to Gibraltar. A photograph captured the Queen feeding a Barbary ape while the Duke of Edinburgh stood next to battle-dressed ape-keeper Gunner Wilfred Portlock.[17] [22]


Ape's Den
The most popular troop of macaques is based at the Ape's Den area within the Gibraltar Nature Reserve.
Gibraltar Barbary Macaques feeding
The macaques receive a daily supply of fresh fruit and vegetables including, oranges, apples, potatoes, onions, carrots and cabbage to supplement their natural food resources.

The monkeys are currently managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS), and veterinarian expertise is provided by the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic. The macaques receive a daily supply of fresh water and vegetables, fruit and seeds as supplement to natural food resources (leaves, olives, roots, seeds and flowers). The animals are caught on a regular basis to check their health status. Additionally, body size, weight and several other measurements are taken. Finally, the animals are given a tattoo number and a microchip as a means of identification. But tattoos are not the only way to recognise individual macaques; many of them have particular marks, scars or spots which can be used as distinguishing features. All monkeys are photographed and the pictures and individual characteristics are catalogued. Cataloguing work is carried out by the GONHS. The GONHS also does collaborative studies with the Scientific Institute of Rabat-Agdal University (Morocco), the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, United States), the University of Vienna (Austria), the German Primate Centre (Germany) and the University of Zurich (Switzerland).

Once every year, a census is conducted to provide data and to monitor reproductive success of the whole population. These demographic data are important for the management of the population generally, and fertility regulation in selected individuals, specifically. Since Barbary macaque females reproduce well, the population on Gibraltar is steadily increasing, which in turn puts pressure on the limited habitat. Animal population control is therefore an essential part of the effective management of the population.[23] In 2008 a small group of macaques that had permanently relocated to the Catalan Bay area were culled. In 2012 the Government Minister for Health and the Environment Dr. John Cortes stated that the Government was investigating the possibility of reintroducing over a hundred macaques to their natural habitat in North Africa.[24]

In October 2014, the Government of Gibraltar has announced that it will export 30 of the monkeys to a safari park in Scotland. This caused a journalist spin that they were sent to Scotland for being especially "disruptive".[25][26][27]


A popular belief holds that, as long as Gibraltar Barbary macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. In 1942 (during World War II), after the population dwindled to just a handful of individuals (just seven monkeys), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered their numbers be replenished immediately from forest fragments in both Morocco and Algeria because of this traditional belief.[8]

Another story links Gibraltar to Africa by a subterranean passage over 15 miles (24 km) long which begins at Lower St. Michael's Cave and passes under the Strait of Gibraltar,[28] and the Gibraltar Barbary macaques entered the Rock from Morocco this way.[29]

In popular culture

Gil Braltar by Jules Verne
In an 1887 satire by Jules Verne, the Spaniard Gil Braltar invades the rock with a macaque troop after disguising himself as one of them.
  • The Gibraltar Barbary macaque is portrayed on the Gibraltar pound's five-pence coin since 1988 and on the tercentenary edition one penny coin since 2004.
  • They are featured in the 2007 novel The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson.
  • The Gibraltar Barbary macaques are also central to the plot of Paul Gallico's 1962 comedic novel Scruffy, set during WWII when their numbers were dwindling.
  • James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is startled by one in the pre-credit sequence of the 1987 film The Living Daylights during a training exercise on Gibraltar. Several more are seen watching and getting out of the way of Bond's struggle with an assassin on a burning munitions truck as it speeds through the tourist zone.
  • They are part of a flashback sequence in The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle.

See also

Media related to Gibraltar Barbary Macaques at Wikimedia Commons

Media related to Macaca sylvanus at Wikimedia Commons

Data related to Barbary macaque at Wikispecies


  1. ^ a b "Amok on the rock: Gibraltar to cull pack of their national symbol monkeys 'because they are a nuisance'". Daily Mail. UK. 16 April 2008. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  2. ^ Jackson, William G.F. (1987). "1. Mons Calpe to Djebel Musa". The Rock of the Gibraltarians – A History of Gibraltar. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-8386-3237-8.
  3. ^ Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) Nature News' magazine, page 14
  4. ^ Ignacio López de Ayala (1782). Historia de Gibraltar (in Spanish). p. 40.
  5. ^ Ignacio López de Ayala, James Bell (1845). The history of Gibraltar: from the earliest period of its occupation by the Saracens. W.Pickering. p. 20.
  6. ^ Phylogeography of Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) and the origin of the Gibraltar colony. Clear distinction between Algerian and Moroccan haplotypes permits attribution of the Gibraltar colony to founders from both regions.
  7. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) Barbary Macaque: Macaca sylvanus,, ed. N. Strõmberg Archived 19 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b DNA solves mystery of Gibraltar’s macaques Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ The Barbary Apes Tourist Attraction of Gibraltar
  10. ^ Whitelocks, Sadie (12 January 2015). "Quit monkeying around! Greedy Gibraltar primate munched on baguette after stealing it from tourist's bag". Main Online. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  11. ^ News on Penalties for Feeding the Barbary Macaques in Gibraltar
  12. ^ a b "New 6-Ft. Keeper Of Gibraltar Apes". Adelaide, SA: The Advertiser (Adelaide). 1944. p. 179. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "Gibraltar's Colony Of Apes". Adelaide, SA: Chronicle (Adelaide). 1951. p. 26. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  14. ^ "Gib Monkeys". Gibraltar events. Wayback machine. Archived from the original on 11 February 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  15. ^ "Library of Congress". Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  16. ^ Matthias Strohn (2016). The Royal Gibraltar Regiment: Nulli expugnabilis hosti. Great Britain: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 100. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  17. ^ a b "A Barbary ape being fed by Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Gibraltar". Top Foto. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  18. ^ "Gunner W Portlock with Ape". Getty Images. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  19. ^ "Look Magazine 1958". Look Magazine. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  20. ^ "A Window on the World II". Great Britain: The Illustrated London News. 1960.
  21. ^ a b Charles E. Perez; Keith J. Bensusan (2005). Upper Rock Nature Reserve: A Management and Action Plan (PDF). Gibraltar: Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society. p. 165. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  22. ^ "Queen Elizabeth II (left) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (far right, centre) meet a pair of Barbary apes with a group of officials, including Gunner Wilfred Portlock (closest to camera) who is the apes official keeper, Gibraltar, 11 May 1954". Getty Images. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  23. ^ Info on Gibraltar Barbary Macaques from the GONHS official website
  24. ^ Govan, Fiona (27 November 2012). "Gibraltar's apes 'have lost their fear of humans'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  25. ^ "And what about the recent headlines about “disruptive monkeys” being exported to Scotland? It’s a journalistic spin; a Scottish wildlife park asked if we could let them have a troop of monkeys. We sent them a troop of 30 – one cohesive group that all knew each other." (Eric Shaw)[1]
  26. ^ Chris Johnston and agencies (11 October 2014). "Thirty troublesome Gibraltar monkeys to be deported to Scottish safari park".
  27. ^ "Thieves, attackers and delinquents - Scotland welcomes Gibraltar's menace". Herald Scotland. 7 October 2014.
  28. ^ St Michaels Cave
  29. ^ Gibraltar Taxi Association

External links

Footpaths of Gibraltar

The footpaths of Gibraltar provide access to key areas of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, a refuge for hundreds of species of flora and fauna which in some cases are found nowhere else in Europe. The reserve occupies the upper part of the Rock of Gibraltar, a long and narrow mountain that rises to a maximum height of 424 metres (1,391 ft) above sea level, and constitutes around 40 per cent of Gibraltar's total land area. The unusual geology of the Rock of Gibraltar – a limestone peak adjoining a sandstone hinterland – provides a habitat for plants and animals, such as the Gibraltar candytuft and Barbary partridge, which are found nowhere else in mainland Europe. For many years, the Upper Rock was reserved exclusively for military use; it was fenced off for military purposes, but was decommissioned and converted into a nature reserve in 1993.The footpaths link many of the fortifications of Gibraltar. They were constructed from the 18th century onwards using chisels, hammers and rods to dig through the solid rock, in order to permit cannon, soldiers and supplies to be moved from ground level to gun positions and observation points established in numerous places on the Upper Rock. Most of these supply routes were later widened to permit vehicular traffic. Many of the roads on the Upper Rock have steel rings embedded in the rock alongside the carriageway, which were used as safety brakes for heavy loads such as cannon being pulled up the slope. Some routes were retained as footpaths to enable troop movements to be concealed behind the surrounding shrubbery, and to provide alternative routes to key points if a road was congested with a heavy load. Several of the paths can be combined into a strenuous circuit of around 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) that takes about four hours to complete, providing broad views of the Gibraltar peninsula, the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain and the coast of Morocco.

Middle Hill (Gibraltar)

Middle Hill is a hill in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. It is located at the northern end of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. It figured prominently in the early history of the 1704 siege of Gibraltar by the Spanish and French. The artillery battery at Middle Hill had been constructed by 1727 and was active for more than two centuries. In the mid twentieth century, Middle Hill transitioned to use as an aerial farm for the Ministry of Defence. The radio farm was refurbished in 1958. About 1970, the Princess Caroline's Battery Group of Barbary macaques were moved to Middle Hill, where they were provisioned at a group of derelict buildings that were part of the battery complex. In 2005, much of Middle Hill was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the Government of Gibraltar, and is now managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.

Operation Snatch

Operation Snatch is a 1962 British comedy film starring Terry-Thomas and George Sanders and directed by Robert Day.

Palladium (protective image)

A palladium or palladion is an image or other object of great antiquity on which the safety of a city or nation is said to depend. The word is a generalization from the name of the original Trojan Palladium, a wooden statue (xoanon) of Pallas Athena that Odysseus and Diomedes stole from the citadel of Troy and which was supposedly later taken to the future site of Rome by Aeneas, where it remained until perhaps transferred to Constantinople and lost sight of after the conversion of the Empire to Christianity.

In English, since around 1600, the word "palladium" has been used figuratively to mean anything believed to provide protection or safety, and in particular in Christian contexts a sacred relic or icon believed to have a protective role in military contexts for a whole city, people or nation. Such beliefs first become prominent in the Eastern Churches in the period after the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, and later spread to the Western church. Palladia were processed around the walls of besieged cities and sometimes carried into battle. In this more offensive role they may also be referred to as "vexilla" (singular vexillum, Latin for "battle standard").

Prince Ferdinand's Battery

Prince Ferdinand's Battery was an artillery battery in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. Today the area is known as the Apes' Den and is the main location for tourists to see Barbary macaques in Gibraltar.

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