Gibraltar Barbary Macaques - Research on Monkeys

Eric and his team of three employees take care of the monkeys' needs on a daily basis 365 days of the year. This includes monitoring their wellbeing and regularly examining the health of selected monkeys alongside a veterinarian. It means cleaning the designated feeding sites and providing water, fruit and vegetables - during summer, when water and fruit decay more quickly, they make this tour twice daily.

A healthy diet consists of fruit and vegetables, so the menu includes apples, pears, oranges, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, cabbage, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots. Every morning the team cuts about 100 kg of the respective food - this is equivalent to a daily 500 gramms for each animal or to between 45 and 50 metric tons each year, making the monkeys possibly the Rock's largest sole fruit and vegetable client. But it does not end there: Additionally, the monkeys receive supplements such as peanuts and barley grains in order to encourage them to forage for natural food as they would in the wilderness.

Another part of the job is to prevent the curious Macaques from roaming residential areas in search for treats. Even though they get fed every day they have become accustomed to sweets and even fast food: Tour operators tolerate - if not animate - the huge amounts of tourists to interact with the monkeys via the provision of inadequate food and get their perfect holiday snapshot. According to Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana in his Budget Speech, dated June 2007, the year 2006 saw 724,000 visitors on the Upper Rock - this makes it about 2,000 visitors per day.

Although prohibited, every visitor to the Upper Rock can witness the spectacle of Macaques happily munching away on chocolates. This is not only unhealthy for the Barbary Macaques, but the extensive human contact as a whole disturbs the natural balance within the troop. As a consequence monkeys not only know that humans and rubbish bins signify treats but also that a crisp package which does neither smell nor look like food is equivalent to food. We do our best to keep the Macaques out of residential areas, but with our limited resources and the Pavlovian conditioning of monkeys it is a very difficult task.

The Matriarchal Society of Macaques

There are five locations on the Upper Rock of Gibraltar where individual troops can be found. These troops are made up of matriarchal families, with each adult female and her young being one family within an extended family.

When it comes to the choice of an alpha male to lead the troop, it can all hinge on which side the older matriarchs take in the dispute for dominance. If a male has gained the dominant post within a troop, he will constantly have to stand his ground: There are always males that will challenge the alpha for dominance and it will always be the females who will decide the outcome.

The alliances within a troop are based on a pecking order determined via alpha females and alpha males: A newborn of an alpha female will get its mother's ranking within the troop as do its brothers and sisters. If the newborn lives long enough, it will have it's own extended family of primarily sisters and children - older sons and brothers within the troop are a further helpful asset.

Bonding and reconciliation are the order of the day; there is a great deal of grooming that bond the animals to each other. Arguments must be reconciled quickly as to keep the cohesion of the overall troop. A male who needs to gain back patronage within the troop after a skirmish will get a young baby - it does not matter whose baby it is nor will a female object when it is taken. He will then present the baby to the superior male and they will both lip smack and teeth chatter over it for while. They will check out the baby for no more than thirty seconds and all past troubles are forgotten, harmony once more rules.

Primatologists in the Field

Our insight into the world of Barbary Macaques has been increased by the primatologists who came to study this rare species in the field in Gibraltar. The universities we carried out work with include for example the Royal Holloway College, London, England; the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; the University of Zurich, Switzerland; the University of Vienna, Austria; the Georg August University of Goettingen, Germany and the Institute of Rabat, Morocco.

If you are a primatologist or student who wishes to research the Macaques, please submit your research proposals to Dr Eric Shaw via our sister charity GONHS! If there are no clashes with other researchers or similar research proposals and if your proposal does not disrupt the troops, we are happy to allow you to carry out research. You may also benefit from living in our research field station, Bruce's Lower Farm , in the Upper Rock during the period of your field research.

Gibraltar's Monkeys in the Media

Not only is our research program open to the above, we also have welcomed several documentary film makers to make their documentaries alongside researchers in the field. It is our overall belief that the more information gets out there, the greater will be the understanding of these unique animals and also of mankind as there are many parallels between us and them.

A short list of some of the documentary film makers include: Animal World, Arte, BBC Wild Life on One, Beyond 2000, Earth Pulse Beyond Productions, Hidden Europe Cicada films, National Geographic and Toyota World of Wildlife.

It goes without saying that these animals have been referred to also in magazines and the daily press including the Washington Post and The Daily Telegraph, with the latest one being BBC Wildlife in September 2009. For a simple introduction to these fascinating animals, you could do no better than to read Paul Gallico's 'Scruffy', whose novel gives great insight on Gibraltar and her tailless monkeys.