Gibraltar is, of course, famous for its, so called, "Apes". So called because they are, in fact, a type of tailless monkey called a Barbary Macaque (Macaca Sylvanus).
The question of how they got here has led to several theories: Are they the last remnants of the once wide-spread European population? Were they brought over by the Moors during their long occupation of southern Spain? Did the British introduce them, sometime in the 18th century?
The more useful question to ask is not, how did they get here but, why do they survive in Gibraltar and nowhere else in Europe?
If they were once widespread in Europe, then surely other populations would still exist in remote mountain regions. If the Moors introduced them, then surely the would have introduced them elsewhere in Spain.
The thing that marks Gibraltar out as different from almost the whole of the rest of southern Europe is presence of the British. So I think we are going to have to hold our hands up to that one.
Either that, or there really is a subterranean passage under the sea joining St Michael's Cave to Africa, and the monkeys were prepared to use it.
Whilst the macaque is listed as endangered in its homelands in Algeria and Morocco, here in Gibraltar they thrive under the care of the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS).
They are regularly fed, on a carefully controlled diet, in order to discourage them from coming down into the town, and are given annual veterinary checks. The appear to be in superb condition, and their glossy coats are almost cat like.
The warnings about the monkeys are well publicised, but are worth repeating:
- Put away any carrier bags and food before entering any area where monkeys can be found,
- Don't pull faces at them or mimic them (showing teeth is a sign of aggression),
- Don't touch them, they aren't pets even though they look cuddly,
- Don't eat outside if there are monkeys in the area and,
- Above all, don't feed them.