Gibraltar’s famed Barbary macaques are originally from Morocco but have been a presence on the rock for centuries and are the only wild monkeys in Europe.
Legend has it that, as long as the macaques exist on the rock, Gibraltar will remain under British rule. This caused panic during world War II when the number of macaques dwindled to just seven in 1942, and led to Winston Churchill ordering reinforcements from across the straits in Morocco and Algeria.
There are currently five troops of around 300 Barbary macaques in Gibraltar and, if you head to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve you’ll be almost guaranteed a sighting. There are a few ways of getting to the Upper Rock but, if you’re feeling adventurous you can climb the Mediterranean Steps – most days you’ll find a macaque or two waiting for you at the top. Otherwise, a trip on the Cable Car will take you to the top of the rock where there are always some hanging around. During the winter months (November to March) the cable car also stops at the Apes’ Den, halfway up the rock. You can also take a taxi tour from Casemates Square – the taxi drivers know all the tricks to tempt the macaques and you’ll often find one or two riding on the roof or the wing mirrors.
Whichever route you take to the Upper Rock make sure that you heed the warning signs and remember that the Barbary macaques are wild animals. That means no food – open a bag of crisps or leave the café with an ice cream and it’s pretty much a certainty that it won’t be you who gets to enjoy it!
It’s worth noting that it’s actually an offence to feed the macaques and, if you’re caught doing so, you can be fined up to £4,000.00.
The macaques can, and do, open backpacks and bags and run off with whatever they find in there so keep your belongings close and your wits about you!
There’s a café and gift shop at the top of the rock with a sign requesting that the door is kept closed at all times – make sure you follow this advice as the macaques are very quick and will brazenly run in if the door is left open (or even ajar). I’ve witnessed them saunter in to the café, jump on the tables and help themselves to whatever has been left there. Suffice to say, they’re not fussy and will happily eat whatever leftovers they can get their hands on.
The staff in the café are obviously used to this happening and keep brooms behind the counter ready to shoo them out!
Away from the Upper Rock the macaques occasionally wander into town – Landport Tunnel behind Casemates Square is a popular spot, and sometimes they’ll take a stroll down Main Street.
If you’re planning a trip to Gibraltar spotting the macaques will be one of the highlights of your trip and, even though I encounter them fairly regularly, I still love to see them. Of course, that might be a different matter if I lived there and had them causing damage to my car or home, which resident friends can testify to!
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