Brief History of the Barbary Macaques

The Barbary Macaque, Macaca sylvanus, known locally as the Rock Ape, is the only free ranging wild primate in Europe. Its European range is restricted to the Rock of Gibraltar, where they have possibly been present since the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from 711ad. Records of their presence during the British occupation date back as far as 1740 (Burton 1972; Dawn Carroll 2001).

In 1915, the Armed Forces in Gibraltar took on responsibility for the Barbary macaques on the Rock, with the Gibraltar Volunteer Corps managing the population (MacRoberts & MacRoberts 1966; Dawn Carroll 2001). This consisted of regular feeding, allegedly in order to prevent the macaques from wandering down to town in search of food, and maintaining the population at a fixed number through culling. Initially, the population was maintained at twenty-five animals, and then at a minimum of thirty-four as from 1955 (Burton & Sawchuk 1974; Dawn Carroll 2001). Between 1939 and 1945 the population was restocked repeatedly with animals from North Africa (MacRoberts 1970, Burton & Sawchuk 1974; 1984, Dawn Carroll 2001, Cortes & Shaw 2003 in press). At one time during this period the population was critically low and was restocked at the request of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, Sir Winston Churchill, on the basis of the legend that Gibraltar would only remain under British rule as long as there were Barbary Macaques on the Rock of Gibraltar (Cortes & Finlayson 1988).

Originally, the Macaques were restricted to one group at Queen’s Gate, also known as the ‘Apes Den’. At a later date a second group became established at Middle Hill. These two packs remained under the responsibility of The Gibraltar Regiment until 1990, when the Gibraltar Tourism Agency, owned by the Gibraltar Government, took over the responsibility of the Queen’s Gate group at the ‘Apes’ Den’. The management of this group was contracted out to ‘MEDAMBIOS’ from 1990 until 1992, after which the Gibraltar Tourism Agency took over the management of the site, together with responsibility over the entire population. In 1992 Sights Management Ltd. was contracted by the Gibraltar Tourism Agency to manage the Barbary Macaques (Fa & Lind 1996; Isola & Isola 1993; Dawn Carroll 2001). This arrangement continued until 1997 when the Gibraltar Tourism Agency ended the contract and took over responsibility for the management for the next two years. In 1999, after lengthy discussions, the contract was awarded to the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS). At present the responsibility for the feeding and management of the Barbary Macaques still lies with this organisation.

Perez, C.E. & Bensusan, K. (2005) The Upper Rock Nature Reserve, A Management and Action Plan. The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society. Gibraltar.