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The Fascinating Barbary Macaques of Gibraltar: A Guide for Visitors

4 April 2023

Gibraltar’s Barbary macaques have been a popular tourist attraction for years, attracting visitors from all over the world. While these monkeys are commonly found in North Africa, their presence in Gibraltar dates back to when the British garrison was established in the territory.

The macaques are believed to have been imported to Gibraltar, where they found the rough limestone cliffs and scrub vegetation to be a congenial habitat. Today, they roam freely in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and are an essential part of the local ecosystem.

Barbary Macaques of Gibraltar: A Guide for Visitors

Gibraltar’s Barbary Macaques are a unique species of macaque that is native to the region. They are known for their distinctive appearance and playful nature, which has made them a popular tourist attraction in Gibraltar. In this article, we will delve into the history, biology, and behavior of these monkeys.

The Fascinating Barbary Macaques Of Gibraltar (1) ImageLegends and Myths

Over the years, many legends and myths have grown up around the macaques. One of the most famous claims that the monkeys traveled from their native Morocco via a subterranean tunnel that starts at St. Michael’s Cave and leads down underneath the Strait of Gibraltar.

While this legend may seem far-fetched, it endures to this day and adds to the mystique of these fascinating animals. Another legend claims that should the macaques ever disappear, the British will leave Gibraltar.

In reality, the macaques are an important part of Gibraltar’s heritage and are protected by law. Visitors to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve can observe them up close and learn more about their behavior and habitat.


Barbary Macaques are thought to have been brought to Gibraltar by the Moors around 711 AD. They have since become an integral part of the region’s culture and history. Today, there are approximately 300 Barbary Macaques living on the rock, making them the only wild monkeys in Europe.

During the Second World War, the macaque population was alarmingly diminished by natural causes. Fortunately, then British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill took a personal interest and additional macaques were imported from Morocco. Today, in addition to the pack that is resident at Apes’ Den, there are other packs living wild on the steep slopes of the Rock. This makes the area always popular with visitors staying at accommodations in the territory and at hotels near Gibraltar.

Gibraltar Rock View ImageObserving the Macaques

The best time to observe the macaques is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when they are most active. Visitors are advised to keep a safe distance and avoid feeding the animals, as this can be harmful to their health and behavior.

Visitors should also respect the macaques’ habitat and refrain from littering or leaving food waste in the nature reserve. By taking these precautions, visitors can enjoy a safe and memorable experience and contribute to the conservation of these remarkable animals.

Biology & Behavior

Barbary Macaques are a species of Old World monkey, with distinctive features that set them apart from other primates. They have a long, bushy tail, which is used for balance when climbing and jumping. They also have a thick coat of fur that protects them from the harsh weather conditions in Gibraltar.

Barbary Macaques are highly social animals and live in groups called troops. These troops can range in size from just a few individuals to over 100. Within each troop, there is a strict hierarchy, with dominant males at the top. Females usually stay within their natal group, while males often leave to join other troops.

Barbary Macaques are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. Their diet includes fruits, seeds, insects, and small vertebrates. They have even been known to raid the occasional garbage can or picnic basket!

Good practices when near Barbary macaques

While the human population of Gibraltar wants these marvellous monkeys to remain living as they are in a semi-wild state, it is strongly advised that those visiting the area, whether enjoying Gibraltar holiday packages or any other type of trip, do not get too close, feed or touch them. Visitors are welcome to take photographs of the simian ‘friends,’ but they should always remember to allow them their natural, free way of life for their benefit and the enjoyment of all.

  1. Don’t touch them – macaques are wild animals and are not tame. No matter how docile they might appear when casually sitting on a wall, they should not be approached or thought of as a pet. They cannot be expected to think in human terms.
  2. Don’t feed them – apart from it being illegal and unnatural for their diet, hand-feeding has long-term negative consequences for macaques.
  3. Conflict of interest – those who go to see macaques are generally fascinated by them and take pictures and/or interact with them. However, macaques don’t necessarily enjoy affection, and they have learned to be tolerant of people to stand a chance of obtaining treats. Visitors should always bear this in mind.
  4. Food and bags – macaques associate bags with food, so it’s best to avoid taking bags when going specifically to see them. Should you encounter macaques when you have food, keep your food/bag, be assertive, or, if you can’t be, move away.
  5. Recognize their warning signals – when threatened, macaques will give a warning gesture, which resembles a pouted mouth, the round mouth threat (RMT), in which the macaque looks directly at the offending party with raised eyebrows to gain your attention. The gesture, which is usually silent but for the occasional ‘pant,’ means ‘No’ or ‘Stop,’ with the macaque able to intensify the tone of the threat by leaning into the offender if they deem it necessary.
  6. Give them space – finally, visitors should not get too close to the macaques and should never get between an adult and their baby.

By following these guidelines, visitors can safely enjoy the company of the Barbary macaques of Gibraltar without causing them harm. These monkeys are an important part of Gibraltar’s history and culture, and it’s crucial that they are respected and protected for future generations to enjoy.


Gibraltar’s Barbary macaques are a unique and exciting attraction that is sure to delight visitors of all ages. With their fascinating behavior and legendary status, these monkeys have captured the imaginations of people from around the world.

By observing the macaques responsibly and respecting their habitat, visitors can contribute to their conservation and help ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy this remarkable experience.

In conclusion, Gibraltar’s Barbary Macaques are a unique and fascinating species of monkey that has captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. By understanding their history, biology, and behavior, we can better appreciate these amazing animals and take steps to ensure their survival in the wild.

Thank you for reading: The Fascinating Barbary Macaques of Gibraltar: A Guide for Visitors.