Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Barbary Apes of Gibraltar

The tiny British territory of Gibraltar is essentially one big rock, and for a long time it was under control of the British military.
If there’s any uncertainty about who’s in charge now, head on up there with a plastic bag full of food.
The Barbary apes are at the same time the best loved and most cursed inhabitants of Gibraltar. Technically, they’re Barbary macaques, but almost no-one calls them that – and they roam free across the Upper Rock.
Aside from a colony that was taken from Gibraltar to Germany, they are the only wild apes in Europe. Superstition has it that if the popular primates ever leave, the British will lose Gibraltar. In World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered that the numbers should be topped up – just in case.
They’re incredibly entertaining. Some just sit staring out over the Mediterranean Sea to Spain and Morocco, but others are far more active. And that can mean jumping on top of buses, trying to steal any food going, or running away with camera straps.
Signs warn tourists about their monkey business, but visitors still get jumped out, robbed and – if they’re really stupid – bitten or scratched.
But for those who take care, and don’t take food, the Barbary apes (or macaques) are totally adorable.

Getting there:
Nearest International Airport: Gibraltar has its own airport, though flights only tend to go there from Spain and the UK. Otherwise, Malaga and Jerez are nearby. The ferry from Tangier in Morocco is another alternative.
By public transport: The best way of getting up to the Upper Rock, and where the monkeys are is either on a tour or in the spectacular cable car that goes from ground level.

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