The Pensive Macaques of Gilbraltar~

Although often referred to as Barbary Apes, the macaques aren’t apes at all, but vestigal-tailed, old world monkeys, called Barbary Macaques. The earliest skeleton found of a Barbary Macaque was carbon dated to the 3rd century BC. There is a thriving population of about 300 macaques in Gibraltar in five separate troops. They are descended from North African Barbary Macaques. The wild population in North Africa varies in estimate but is somewhere around 12,000.

I was struck by their faces, they looked extraordinarily wise, but also, sort of world-weary, and well, sad to me. I’ve seen monkeys in the wild, but these ones seemed more bummed-out.

Look in their eyes. Do you see this quality?

Even the babies looked sort of stressed-out.


These images have stayed with me, so I just looked into it, and learned this, “the groups of macaques normally exposed to tourists have elevated levels of anxiety,” due to “aggressive interactions” with tourists. There is a ban on feeding the macaques, but tourists fed them M & M’s and junk food when I was there, encouraged the monkeys to jump on them and shrieked at them when they did so. Taxi cab drivers fed them junk food to encourage them to jump on their cars and then drove with them on the car. If it was disturbing to me, I can imagine how the macaques must feel about this day after day.

The Macaques are free. Sort of . I learned they are fed a nutritious diet daily and I saw this. They are caught “regularly” to check their health status, weighed and photographed. Each monkey is given a tattoo and a micro-chip. Their reproduction is monitored.


I also found out this un-fun fact, “Since Barbary macaque females reproduce well, the population on Gibraltar is steadily increasing, which in turn puts pressure on the limited habitat. Animal population control is therefore an essential part of the effective management of the population.[23] In 2008 a small group of macaques that had (been) permanently relocated to the Catalan Bay area were culled.”
All this “management” sounds stressful to me. Particularly because they are intelligent creatures and may well know what is going on.

Wild populations of macaques have suffered a major decline in recent years and they are now classified as an endangered species. Truly wild macaques live in Algeria, Morocco and Libya. Macaque habitat is being destroyed by logging and farming, they are poached in the wild, and caught for smuggling as pets.


Written between 1605 and 1610, Alonso Hernández del Portillo, the first chronicler of Gibraltar, wrote:
“But now let us speak of other and living producers which in spite of the asperity of the rock still maintain themselves in the mountain, there are monkeys, who may be called the true owners, with possession from time immemorial, always tenacious of the dominion, living for the most part on the eastern side in high and inaccessible chasms.”
Let’s make sure we protect our intelligent cousins, these “true owners” of the rock, who have possessed it from “time immemorial” and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve wherever we encounter them. They deserve at least this much from us.


Click to access Macaca_sylvanus.pdf

81 thoughts on “The Pensive Macaques of Gilbraltar~

  1. Isn’t there anyone who can stop this horrific human behavior? They are beautiful but we are not. Humans just cannot stop being idiots and all the animals…well, everything actually, suffers because we are here. The poor souls. I hope someone helps them.

    1. I am afraid that what you are saying is unfortunately too often true. When I decided to look into this, I had no idea that wild macaques were endangered with some estimates placing the wild population at only 8,000.

  2. Thanks for stopping by at Colltales, Cindy. And what an interesting blog you have here. I could stare for hours at these meditative? beings. It must be so hard for them, confined within an island whose economy is mainly based on the tourism industry. Then again, we always find ways to mortify and mistreat animals, no matter where or when. Each day I’m less sure why we wound up ruling (and ruining) this beautiful planet. Will come back. Best


  3. Heart breaking to hear that we ‘people’ are causing so much stress and anxiety to our intelligent cousins. No wonder they are looking at us with such despair.

    1. So glad you “feel them.” I do too. We need more people with this kind of empathy. It is the gift that comes with your anxiety, a sensitivity to not place other living things in stress inducing situation.

  4. To me, I think some of faces look rather intelligent, analytic, experienced and perhaps being caution.

    It is a bit sad that their cousin (us) invade them (and other further away cousins) as such. I think we this world belong to us only.

    1. Thank you my friend. When you look in their eyes we see a mirror of ourselves and our actions, and sadly it isn’t really a pretty reflection. We can do better than this~

  5. They definitely look stressed out and eating junk food is not part of their diet. People have stopped caring for the MOST HIGH’s creation; truly a shame to see this. Awesome post! Love the pictures … Again I see people still believing in evolution, which is what the material world wants us all to believe.

  6. These poor guys! With dogs I already find their eyes so human-like and expressive, the eyes of these macaques here are even more stirring. I admit I never looked long at the faces of monkeys when I came across them, and either because they’re too far or they don’t stay still for very long. But your portraits here of them capture their expressions so well, and such arresting sad faces.

  7. just look at those faces and the eyes are so expressive…sad to hear about the culling and other manipulation by man…sometimes humans go too far in the name of good!!!

  8. Cynthia

    Thank you. I learned so much. Very sad, but I am glad to know what’s happening. Great photos of a beautiful animal.

  9. Oh my gosh what magnificent photos! That makes me cry that people feed them and they are so nervous! Poor babies!! Thank you for sharing their story with us!! Hugz Lisa and Bear

  10. jdk22

    Eyes, yes. But, what about those hands? (third from the bottom) What proportion of our genes do we share with these guys?

  11. I just bought: ‘A Death in Italy: The Definitive Account of the Amanda Knox Case’ by John Follain
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      1. Amazon told me to get it with yours, so I did. Got confirmation that they are being delivered to me now. I am so excited. I love to read. I will post my review on amazon of your book as well. Jackie 🙂

  12. They have such “serious” and “melancholy” faces. They make me wonder what they were thinking about. Don’t they look so “wise”, like the statues and paintings of the great philosophers from the past? 😀

    1. Here you go again coming up with these creative and apropos descriptions! Yes they look like philosophers and I would title the post this if I had thought of it. Thank you as always Hari~

    1. It bothers me the way some humans treat animals, especially the intelligent mammals, it’s as if some think we are better somehow…..res ipso loquitar. I suspect we are not.

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