A visit to Gibraltar for every tourist is a rare chance to see an animal close up in its environment. Legend says if the Apes disappear from Gibraltar so will the British which is why during the Second World War with the numbers dwindling Winston Churchill sent to 'North Africa for replacements.
Churchill's plan worked and the colony thrives to this day. There are several places to see the almost 300 apes in their natural habitat as they are littered around the Upper Rock. The easiest way and the way we recommend is to ride the Cable Car to the Top Station where, as soon as you reach the top, you will see apes sitting around waiting for you. If you are lucky you might also meet Brian a local primatologist who is a regular visitor to the Top Station on weekends. The apes roam freely around the Top Station on the look out for any unsuspecting tourist. If you haven't had enough of the apes by the time you have finished enjoying the views and completed your multimedia tour the Cable Car also has a mid way stop called the Ape's Den which is exactly, what the name suggests. You can walk amongst them or watch them bounce off cars and buses as they play. Please be advised that the Cable Car will not stop at the middle station between the months of April to October. There are also many to be seen at St Michael's Cave and around the area of Princess Caroline's Battery and the Siege Tunnels.
The Gibraltar apes are actually a tailless monkey called a Barbary Macaque (Macaca Sylvanus). No one is actually sure how they got to Gibraltar, however, speculation has it they were brought either by the Arabs sometime after 711CE or the British after 1704. The Macaque is listed as 'endangered' in its homelands in Algeria and Morocco but here in Gibraltar they thrive under the care of the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS).
The apes come into contact with humans on a daily basis and it is through this contact they became known as 'Bags of Fat' being fed by well meaning but ill informed people. Their general health has improved under GONHS (Gibraltar's Ornithological and Natural History Society) and there is now a £500 fine if anyone is caught feeding an ape. They are fed at locations around the Rock on a daily basis on a diet strictly observed by experts and though it may seem basic to you to the apes it is balanced for their health, well being and teeth. They are wild but used to humans so it is perfectly ok to approach close enough to take a photograph, some may even pose! You may sit near them but more likely they will come close to you, if they do approach you please do not touch them. You may get away with it once but touch an ape that got out of his cave the wrong side that morning and you will get a bite. They are very protective of their young and often show signs of aggression to keep you at bay. Stay away! One thing the Apes love is a plastic bag. They associate the sound and sight of plastic bags with food. They will grab it immediately and please do not try and stop them as they will bite. It is best to let it go and hope they drop it after their curiosity is satisfied. Only then can you recover whatever was inside they have disregarded as a non food item. They also sometimes jump onto people to get from one perch to another so if they do sit on you just bend over to tip them off, they should go and pick on someone else. If you buy an ice cream or food in the snack bar at the Cable Car Top Station eat it inside. Many a Tour Guide counts the seconds it stays in the hand of the unsuspecting before it is taken by an Ape.
Just remember the following points and your visit to the Apes will be a joy to remember and photograph;
- Put away any plastic bag or food before entering an area where apes can be found roaming
- Don't pull faces at them or mimic them. Showing teeth is a sign of aggression
- Don't touch them, they aren't pets even though they look cuddly
- Don't eat outside if there are apes in the area
- Above all, don't Feed them