Monkeys in Gibraltar

Meet the amazing Gibraltar Monkeys in a safe environment

Barbary Macaques in Gibraltar

Also known by the name of Gibraltar Monkeys or Gibraltar Apes, the Barbary Macaque (Macaca Sylvanus) originally originates from the Rif and Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  The Gibraltar Barbary Macaques are the only wild monkey population on the whole European continent.

Although most Barbary Macaques populations in Africa are declining due to hunting and deforestation, Gibraltar Macaques enjoy a health population.

Currently, some 300 macaques currently live in the Rock of Gibraltar.  Being a tailless species, they are usually mistaken for apes. They are sometimes referred to as Barbary apes or rock apes, despite being a tailless monkeys. The locals refer to them as monos (monkeys) when conversing in Spanish or Llanito (the local vernacular).

Gibraltar Monkeys
Gibraltar Barbary Macaque on the Rock of Gibraltar – Image Tommy Finlayson

Origin of the Gibraltar Monkeys

The Gibraltar Monkey had also been present long before Gibraltar the British captured the Rock of Gibraltar in 1704. One of the first reports of the macaques on the rock was made by Alonso Hernández del Portillo, the first chronicler of Gibraltar. In del Portillo’s 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 del Portillo 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.”

The lack of reliable data concerning founders of the macaques population has obscured the true origin of the Gibraltar Monkey.

Legend suggests that the origin of the Gibraltar Macaques originates from the Pliocene era, 5 and half million years ago!

The Macaca sylvanus species is unfortunately listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and is vastly declining. About 75% of the total global population is found in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

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

Tourism and the Monkeys in Gibraltar

Visiting the Gibraltar Monkeys are considered by many to be the top thing to do in Gibraltar. They are very accustomed to be around people. Nevertheless, visitors must be warn that they are still wild animals. As scavengers, they will often approach and sometimes climb onto people and will take any opportunity to steal food.

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.

Therefore, it is highly recommended that you always visit the Upper Rock with a qualified guide. There are a number of ways to meet and greet the Barbary Macaques. We recommend going on a Private Rock Tour or via a specialised Barbary Macaque Experience with an expert guide. 

Gibraltar Monkeys
Barbary Macaque Experience – Monkey Tour

However, if you are feeling adventurous and would like to see the Macaques on your own, you can find them at the following locations:

General Guidelines when viewing the Barbary Macaque

 

Most Important Tips

Do not touch to monkeys: the monkeys remain wild animals, even if they are used to people. However, they are certainly not tamed. No matter how passive they might appear casually sat on a wall, they are not to be considered a pet! Touching them can result in threat displays (see below) or even being bitten.

Do not feed the monkeys: IT IS ILLEGAL! Unnatural foods are bad for the macaque’s diet and hand feeding has long-term negative consequences on them. Macaques tend to lose respect towards people which interact with them. This may allow them to gain confidence and become aggressiveness towards visitors.

Food & Behaviours

Conflict of interest: whilst visitors are generally fascinated by the Barbary Macaque taking pictures and interacting with them, the macaques do not enjoy our interaction. The macaques have simply learnt to be tolerant of people in order to stand a chance of obtaining treats. Macaques are scavengers and on the constant lookout for food. They take every opportunity to jump on visitors and steal food or items. Do not let your guard down – remember they are wild animals!

Food and bags: macaques associate any bags with food – so be extra vigilant! Avoid taking bags with you when going specifically to see them. Therefore, leave your valuables inside your vehicle or taxi. Should you encounter any macaques on your visit to the Upper Rock, keep your food/bag close to your chest. Macaques are more reluctant to approach and know they got less chance of snatching it. Remember to be assertive, if you cannot get them to go away, then move away in a clam manner.

Warning Signs

Recognise their warning signals: The Gibraltar Monkeys will give a warning gesture involving an opened mouth, without baring any teeth when provoked.

This behaviour is known as the Round Mouth Threat (RMT). The monkey looks directly at the offender with raised eyebrows to gain their attention and warning. This RMT gesture is usually silent, and can be intensified by macaques by them leaning into the offender if further provoked.

If a macaque directs a RMT at you, it is signalling its intention and ability to launch an attack on you! You should therefore be wise to take this warning seriously. Stop whatever action you are doing, whether it is pointing at it, stroking it, staring at it, etc.

Calmly take a step back and give them space. This will reassure the Barbary Macaque and they should  stop displaying the threat gesture. Further provocation to the macaque may result in a lunge attack or recruit more macaques against you.

Gibraltar Monkeys
Gibraltar Monkey – Barbary Macaque showing a Round Mouth Threat RMT on the Rock of Gibraltar

Your behaviour around the Gibraltar macaque

Give the monkeys space: don’t get too close to them and don’t get in-between an adult and a baby monkey. Macaques may start to fidget or scratch (Self-Directed Behaviours) when becoming agitated or stressed by crowds or over staring before they display a RMT. This behaviour could be your pre-warning signal to stand back.

Announce yourself to them: do not sneak up on them – ensure that you let the monkeys realise your presence before you proceed to approach them. Particularly if the macaques are carrying out grooming session or other social activity. One simple way to alert them of your presence is by gently coughing as you make your way towards them. This will prevent startling them and they will not be put off by your presence and continue with their social interactions they were involved in. 

One simple way to alert them of your presence is by gently coughing as you make your way towards them. This will prevent startling them and they will not be put off by your presence and continue with their social interactions they were involved in. One simple way to alert them of your presence is by gently coughing as you make your way towards them. This will prevent startling them and they will not be put off by your presence and continue with their social interactions they were involved in.

Do not stare at the monkeys: this does not mean that you cannot look at them, just avoid staring at close distance at the macaques. When stared at the monkey will usually display a RMT in ‘disagreement’.

What else to do around the Macaques in Gibraltar

Avoid staircases and tight spots: monkeys will get defensive and you will be putting yourself at risk unnecessarily. If you come across macaques in a tight spot pause to assess the situation. Then calmly move away if at all possible.

If they jump / climb on you: The monkeys in Gibraltar are used to tourist and the more rowdy juveniles will often approach and sometimes climb onto people. Whilst this may have been highlight of the encounter with the macaques, these interactions are not conducive to a sustainable macaque tourist product. To avoid this wherever possible refrain from leaning onto walls and railings where the monkeys can normally be found and avoid crouching down next to juveniles.

Both these habits are all too inviting to the Gibraltar Monkey which will generally seize this opportunity. If however they do climb on you, just simply bend down slowly and they should jump off. Do not try to push them off as chances are they may bite.

Be aware that there is no safe way to physically interact with these animals that are capable of scratching and biting if not maliciously, in a playful manner. At best they are unhygienic and can result in transmission of pathogens. We highly recommend to be accompanied by a local official tour guide and join a Rock Tour or a specialised Monkey Tour when planning to go and see the famous Gibraltar Monkeys

Military Care of the Macaques

The Barbary Macaque population was under the care of the British Army and later the Royal Gibraltar Regiment during the period of 1915 to 1991, who carefully controlled a population that initially consisted of only one single pack.

The ‘Keeper of the Apes’ would maintain records including an up-to-date register for each ape. The records listed births, names and the supervision of their diet, which was drawn officially every week. In 1944, the War Office set a monthly budget of £4 for the allowance of food for the macaques, which included  fruit, vegetables and nuts.

The Regiment would comically 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.”

New born monkeys in Gibraltar were named after military governors, brigadiers and high-ranking officers posted at Gibraltar. Any injured or ill monkey needing medical attention would be taken to the Royal Naval Hospital Gibraltar and received the same treatment as would any service personnel.

Gibraltar Barbary Macaques greeting HM Queen Elizabeth

On 11 May 1954, during their Royal Visit, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Upper Rock and met the famous Gibraltar Monkeys during their visit. A photograph captured the Queen feeding a Gibraltar Monkey while the Duke of Edinburgh stood next to the battle-dressed ape-keeper.

Gibraltar Monkeys
Barbary Macaque on a railing as the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visit them on the Rock of Gibraltar during their Royal tour of the Commonwealth in 1954 (photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

 

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