Sometimes, we just need some fuzzy animals to raise our spirits. The Barbary Macaques are the only free-living primates in Europe, and they are swelling in numbers on the Rock of Gibraltar. Descendants of North African monkeys, somehow the cuddly creatures manage to skip across the strait and land at the Southern end of the Iberian peninsula. There they have remained for centuries, becoming an integral part of the ecosystem. How they got here is a bit of a mystery. Some say it was British sailors who introduced the primates, while others believe the animals may have migrated on their own via a 15-mile long subterranean tunnel. Either way, get ready for cuteness overload.
What is this Monkey Business?
Unlike their relatives in Africa, the Barbary Macaques of Gibraltar are not facing declination under threat of deforestation and hunting. In fact, the Gibraltar Macaques are growing healthily and rapidly. At present there are about 300 of them, broken into five troops that live in the Gibraltar Nature Reserve. While the reserve is where they spend most of their time, they occasionally make forays into town (but we’ll get into that later).
That Face Though
When visitors arrive to Gibraltar they may only see a few macaques, but with a little patience, a sharp eye, and some knowledge of where to look, anyone can spot these tailless monkeys en masse. The Gibraltar macaques spend about 30% of their day interacting with visitors, so hang out for a while and wait - the monkeys will come. Often times the young are witnessed playing together while the older monkeys lounge, eat, or beg for food from passersbys.
Highs and Woes
The reason this particular group of macaques has been able to thrive is the high level of care the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) provides. Workers bring vegetables, fruit and water daily to the macaques, and regularly run routine health checks. The government takes good care of the monkeys and for good reason: they bring tens of thousands of tourist dollars to the country. But protecting the creatures has become increasingly difficult. The macaques of Gibraltar have become so unafraid of humans that they have started causing an excessive amount of trouble for tourists and locals. People have been attacked on occasion and the town regularly has to cleanup dumpsters and alleyways. The problem progressed to a point in 2014 that the government had to deport over 100 monkeys for bad behavior.
The Ultimate Photo Opp
Don’t let that deter you, though. One bad apple doesn’t mean the whole lot is rotten. Thousands of visitors have peaceful interactions with the monkeys. Barbary macaques are very curious animals, which is why they interact with humans so effortlessly. They are often as interested in us as we are in them, so they want to come up and get a good look.