The barbary macaques of Gibraltar

The Barbary macaques of Gibraltar

The Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus), also known as the Barbary ape, is a species of Old World monkey native to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. However, a small population of barbary macaques also exists in Europe, in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.

The Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild population of this species outside of Africa and is considered to be of high conservation value. The macaques are protected under both UK and EU law, and their population is subject to monitoring and management efforts to ensure their long-term survival.

In addition to the population in Gibraltar, there is also a population of Barbary macaques in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, located on the northern coast of Africa. This population is believed to have been introduced in the 18th century, and it is managed by the Spanish authorities.

The Barbary macaque is not native to mainland Spain, and there are no established populations of the species in the country. However, there have been occasional sightings of macaques in some areas of southern Spain, particularly in urban and suburban areas where they may have escaped from captivity or been illegally introduced. These sightings are generally considered to be isolated incidents, and there is no evidence of a wild population of Barbary macaques in mainland Spain.

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Myths surrounding the Barbary macaques in Gibraltar.

There are several anecdotes and myths surrounding the Barbary macaques in Gibraltar. Here are a few:

  • The Macaque and the Governor’s Wife: One popular story involves a female macaque who supposedly took a liking to the wife of the British Governor of Gibraltar in the early 19th century. According to the story, the macaque would visit the governor’s wife every day, and even attended her tea parties. When the governor’s wife left Gibraltar, the macaque is said to have died of a broken heart.
  • The Macaque and the Soldier: Another story involves a British soldier who reportedly saved the life of a wounded macaque during World War II. According to the story, the macaque had been shot by a German soldier, and the British soldier took it to a field hospital and cared for it until it recovered. The macaque supposedly became the soldier’s constant companion, and even helped him to catch rats in the trenches.
  • The Legend of the Seven Macaques: There is also a popular myth surrounding the macaques in Gibraltar, which says that as long as the macaques are present in Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British control. The myth is based on the belief that there were originally seven macaques in Gibraltar, and that if they were ever to leave, the British would lose control of the territory.

It’s worth noting that these stories and myths are not necessarily based on historical fact, and should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, they are a fascinating part of the cultural history of Gibraltar and the Barbary macaque population that inhabits it.

Further reading

Wikipedia has a fascinating and in depth entry about this species that is well worth reading: Especially this paragraph that is truly worrying

Wild populations of Barbary macaques have suffered a major decline in recent years to the point of being declared an endangered species on the IUCN Red List since 2008. The Barbary macaque is threatened by fragmentation and degradation of forest habitat, and poaching for the illegal pet trade; it is also killed in retaliation for raiding crops. Today, no accurate data exists on the location and number of individuals out of their natural habitat. An unknown number of individuals are living in zoological collections, at other institutions, in private hands, in quarantine, or waiting to be relocated to appropriate destinations.

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