You are probably wondering how these apes came to be here. The truth is that nobody is quite sure. Although it is certain that this species of ape – the Barbary Macaque – existed in prehistoric Europe, most of them disappeared in the Ice Ages.
These apes were probably first brought to the Rock in the early 18th century, although they may have been reintroduced on several occasions throughout Gibraltar’s history. The Barbary Macaque is the only non-human primate living wild in the Mediterranean region. There are probably no more than five or six thousand of them in the world, mostly living in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Around 200 apes live on the Rock of Gibraltar.
Diet & Breeding
They live in what might be called a semi-wild state. The Gibraltar government provides them with additional food to try and control their movements and keep them from straying too close to inhabited areas, with varying degrees of success!
The apes are very well cared for. They are fed daily, mainly on fruit and vegetables, and they are vaccinated against rabies, tetanus, tuberculosis and other possible diseases. Their natural diet consists of berries, roots, ants and small grubs that contribute to their protein intake.
These animals breed once a year. Interestingly, the males play a large part in looking after the babies. Their instinct to protect their young is very strong. It is therefore extremely rare for an ape to attack a human parent carrying its own baby.
But, although they display “human” characteristics and look like nice sociable creatures, it is important to remember that these apes are wild animals. Feeding the apes is illegal and carries a £500 fine. It is also dangerous to feed them as they can bite. Feeding them encourages the apes to expect food from visitors. They then think everyone has food in their bags and may try to snatch them. They may even become aggressive.
As we mentioned earlier, interaction with humans can be fatal for the apes, because they do not have natural resistance to human diseases such as the common cold or measles – so close contact with them should be avoided. You can safely watch them behaving naturally in their own special areas.
Watching their “monkeying around” can be very entertaining!
There is an old superstition that if the Apes leave the Rock; the British will go as well.
Rumour has it that when Winston Churchill was told that only three apes remained on the Rock, he arranged for reinforcements to be brought over from Africa.