The Mediterranean Lifestyle - English
LIFE ON THE ROCK
Gibraltar's cheeky Barbary macaques, the only wild primates in Europe
When thinking of monkeys and their natural habitat, one usually associates them with Asian tropical forests, South American rainforests and African mountainous areas, knowing that they prefer warmer climates and most cannot survive in places that are too cold or dry. Despite these facts, the so-called Barbary macaques have lived on the famous Rock of Gibraltar, an overseas territory of Great Britain, for centuries.
Here on the southern tip of Spain, where Europe and Africa are divided by the 14 km straits that separate the Atlantic from the Mediterranean, a tiny strip of land juts out into the water, largely dominated by tourism and the military, and apparently patrolled by the monkeys. Spaniards, British, Italians, Portuguese, Moroccans and Maltese have settled here over time and this is evident by the different cultures and languages. English is the official language, but Spanish is the preferred language.
Gibraltar attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Many come for its duty-free status, others to see its unique airport with a runway that separates Gibraltar from mainland Spain, and a greater number visit to see the rock and the famous monkeys and ask, how did they arrive at the European continent?
There is sufficient fossil evidence that macaques and other primates and monkeys lived on the European continent thousands of years ago. Back then, however, temperatures were more humid and biodiversity was richer and different from today. With the cooling of the earth, many animal species migrated to the warm south or died out over time. The European monkeys succumbed to the same fate and found a new home in North Africa, where they spread across the Maghreb region, from Tunisia to Morocco. Today, due to the destruction of their natural habitat, their occurrence is limited to only a few isolated populations in Morocco and Algeria, which is why they have been on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2009. At present, the only place where the population is not declining is Gibraltar.
To be more precise, on the upper part of the rock, which is designated as a nature reserve and accounts for around 40% of the whole area of Gibraltar, the Barbary macaques, which are actually still wild, live a relatively quiet and safe life in large groups. Most stay near the top of the 426 m high cliff, other groups live further down near the humans and are not afraid of getting too close. On the contrary, they show neither shyness nor respect when it comes to getting something to eat, and don't hesitate to snatch ice cream or chocolate from visitors' hands or steal bags. The braver ones even climb on shoulders and pull hair. Occasionally they also make excursions down into the city to wreak havoc there. However, they are not naturally aggressive, but will react like any wild animal and will bite if threatened or upset.
As in a large family, they live together in large groups and are kept together by a small group of females, with the strongest males leading the group. Mutual grooming strengthens their bond, with a special remark being that the males are also included in the upbringing and the whole pack takes care of all the young together.
The Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus), also known as the Magot, is a species of macaque from the monkey family, it is one of 23 of the types and is unique to live in North Africa and Gibraltar. The rest are native to Asia. Their life expectancy is around 25 years, with females as high as 30 years. Their main distinguishing feature, unlike the other species, is the lack of a tail that would normally be used for clinging to trees. This is typical of great apes, which Barbary macaques, despite their name, do not belong to. They have what is called a residual tail, which has evolved backwards until it has all but disappeared.
For years, there has been much speculation as to where primates come from. Could they be the last of their kind that made this continent their home millions of years ago and can still be found here because they chose not to migrate to warmer climes? And what do the English actually have to do with the whole thing?
It is believed that the Arabs brought the monkeys with them on their travels through the
Mediterranean as early as the 8th century. In
2005 researchers from the Universities of Zürich, Constance and Chicago were able to prove through genetic tests that the Gibraltar monkeys are related to those in Morocco and Algeria and are not the descendants of the original European population. However, the question arises as to how they were able to survive for so long on the approximately 6.5 km2 large dry peninsula, where the flora and fauna is quite limited? They probably wouldn't exist anymore if people hadn't taken care of them.
From the time of their arrival, the British became an important part of their survival, feeding, taking care and giving them names. Today, every monkey is documented and given a serial number. They are given medical attention and fed with fruit, vegetables and nuts appropriate to their species. Reproduction is closely monitored and controlled so that there is no overpopulation, which would lead to a serious problem for humans and animals.
Gibraltar is a place full of interweaving of civilizations and cultures. Everything is represented, from prehistoric caves to Moorish structures to Georgian and Victorian architectural styles. Spaniards and Moors fought fiercely for this small but strategically very significant place, which geographically obviously belongs to the Iberian Peninsula. During the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714, in which disputes about the right to the throne arose due to the lack of an heir to the throne, British marines, led by Admiral George Rooke, took the rock on behalf of Charles of Austria in 1704. After the end of the war in 1713, the peace treaty was signed in Utrecht, and it was stipulated that Gibraltar officially and finally fell under British sovereignty.
During the Second World War it served as a fortress that secured access to North Africa, for which even the inhabitants were forcibly resettled in Madeira. An old legend, believed to have originated during Winston Churchill's political tenure, says that British rule in Gibraltar will not end until the monkeys leave the rock. Therefore, after a sharp decline to only 5 surviving monkeys, 30 new monkeys were imported from North Africa on his orders so as not to show territorial weakness.
Spain has never given up its claims, but despite consistent efforts, it has not managed to regain sovereign rights to this day. After a referendum in 1967, the overwhelming majority voted to remain British, and so Great Britain continues to insist on the right of peoples to self-determination and
Spain continues to insist on its territorial claim.
The Barbary apes are very important to the residents, especially since tourism is the most important economic sector, even before income as a financial tax haven. It is no longer allowed to touch them in order not to endanger their natural way of life. The government changed the Animal Welfare Act and now imposes a fine of up to £2,500 for non-compliance. The GONHS (Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society) has taken over the supervision of today's 250 Barbary macaques, which also takes care of the entire flora and fauna on Gibraltar.