'Apes' own a piece of the Rock (of Gibraltar)
Wild ‘apes’ stole my snuggly! A macaque on Gibraltar snatches her toddler’s favorite toy and a woman finds out about Europe’s only wild primates.
(Page 2 of 2)
A less romantic view is that these European macaques simply died out, and Macaca sylvanus was reintroduced to Gibraltar sometime in the 1700s, explains Robert Martin, a primatologist at Chicago’s Field Museum. “There isn’t a good historical record,” he notes.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Cortes, who has degrees in botany and zoology from the Royal Holloway, part of the University of London, and a doctorate in ecology at Oxford, is passionate about his native Gibraltar. As secretary-general of the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS) Cortes finds himself immersed in the politics of protecting the tiny peninsula’s flora and fauna.
It is a challenge to balance the competing interests of land developers who want to build housing, of tour operators who draw in visitors with encounters that sometimes get a little too close, and of parents and merchants who worry about risks that scavenging monkeys pose to children or merchandise.
And although only 10,000 macaques remain around the world, their numbers have increased in recent years – a controversial point in Gibraltar, whose 2.6 square miles have a human population density that rivals that of London.
GONHS has a government contract to provide the monkeys with fresh water and vegetables, fruit, and seeds to supplement their diet of leaves, olives, roots, seeds, and flowers. The Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic, meanwhile, monitors their health.
Not everyone is impressed, though. Dr. Martin studied the macaques for 10 years before he quit in protest after a government cull five years ago destroyed half of those he had been studying. His calls for a contraceptive program have been ignored.
Opponents counter that the contraceptive program would have disrupted the macaques’ social hierarchy.
Still, Martin says, “Barbary macaques are an endangered species. There is very little attempt to conserve them in the wild. If they were professionally managed, the government could be very useful. Instead, they are giving up an important conservation opportunity.”
In the past century, however, the macaques’ numbers were worryingly small. “The numbers decreased significantly during the time of the Second World War, or so we’re told by newspaper reports that claim there were only three, four, maybe five. There might have been more in less accessible areas, but historically, Winston Churchill certainly believed, there were very few,” says Cortes. “Somebody told him this was symbolic of British dominancy in Gibraltar and if the monkeys disappeared that maybe Gibraltar would cease to be British, and in the middle of the Second World War that if it ceased to be British, it would become Nazi.
So he ordered monkeys brought over from Morocco. “Coincidentally, a great-uncle of mine by the name of William Buzon, who worked at the British Consulate of Tetuan, was tasked with capturing monkeys in the Atlas Mountains and sending them across the strait to Gibraltar. A number were brought over between 1944 and the early ’50s and were released on the Rock into the local population, which led to the population we have now.”
• • •
'Baby II' caught up with us eight days later in southern Spain. Nakoa buried his face into his beloved, and all was right with the world.
I was relieved to see him seemingly unaffected by the traumatic experience. But as we headed out of our pension on our way to the famous Zoo de Fuengirola, he stopped me. He gave the ever-present “Baby II” a long sad look and placed the giraffe inside the door with a kiss and a sigh. He might trust Grandma, but he wasn’t so sure about those apes.