Hairy Moment with the Gibraltar Monkeys

A Cautionary Tale

Gibraltar monkeys

Hey hey I’m a monkey (and I like to monkey around)

I wasn’t going to share this video of my mate, Dave, meeting a monkey in Gibraltar.

One reason is that I used a bad word in it but he’s managed to bleep it out.

Another is that Dave’s hair looks a mess.

The main reason is that it shows him experiencing something that the Gibraltar government wants to discourage: an ‘unwanted interaction’ with a Barbary macaque.  (And all because we took a backpack. It didn’t contain any food or drink – just a notebook, two cameras and an extra jumper for me – it can be pretty nippy in December at a height of over 1,300 feet.)

But I’ve decided to publish and be damned, for these not-so-dumb animals’ sake. No one wants to become a monkey murderer by default … and that could happen if we don’t help.

We didn’t actually want monkey interaction. But, be warned, if you’re not careful that’s what you’ll get. There are 240 Barbary macaques living on The Rock and they’re not stupid (although sometimes humans are).

Year in, year out, these minxy monkeys watch tourists arriving off the cable car, backpacks bulging with tasty treats. Quite why people feel the need to go better provisioned than Sir Edmund Hillary on his expedition to the Himalayas is a mystery. It’s not exactly scaling Everest. The cable car is only a six-minute ride to the top and there’s a café if you fancy a bite (so to speak).

But people do, and it didn’t take the monkeys too long to figure out how a zip works. The cable car brings fresh ‘victims’ every 10 minutes so they get plenty of practice.

These pick-pocket primates don’t wait to be asked. While your back is turned they’ll be on to you (literally), rifling through your rucksack for something other than their Five A Day (the healthy fruit and veg the government provides).

You’ll invariably see one of the dominant monkeys feasting on a packet of custard creams, swigging from a can of Coke or getting stuck in to a tube of Pringles. No sharing. Just too much salt, a big sugar rush and oodles of bad cholesterol for one greedy monkey.

Cheeky Gibraltar Monkeys

Their skill with zips makes the £500 fine if you’re caught feeding them pretty toothless, unlike these pesky primates which can inflict a nasty bite if so inclined. (Monkeys, like humans, have their ‘off days’.) So, if you want to avoid ‘unwanted interaction’, ditch the rucksack.

Because, although having a monkey on your back may seem a bit of a laugh (afterwards, not at the time), the consequences of too much human interaction could be disastrous for Gibraltar’s favourite tourist attraction. And not all that good for humans either.

To a Barbary macaque, humans = food. As humans live in town, that’s where the macaques have been heading in increasing numbers of late, on food forays. So far this year, 59 people have been treated in hospital for minor monkey bites. The most worrying involved a woman who was attacked in Main Street while pushing her grandchild in the pram.

Almost monthly, monkeys are a hot topic on Gibraltar’s parliamentary agenda. GPS tracking collars are the latest of many methods that have been tried to control them: contraception, noise deterrents, transportation, a ‘get our monkeys back to nature’ leaflet campaign, even (a ‘final solution’ which nobody wants) culling.  GPS tracking collars are now being tried.

Do you want monkey blood on your hands? Then please read these 10 rules:

Avoiding Unwanted Interaction with the Gibraltar Monkeys

Gibraltar monkeys

Rule 1:

What part of Do Not Feed the Monkeys do you not understand? Do not bring food with you, period. Then neither you, nor thieving little monkey hands, will be tempted.

Rule 2:

Plastic bags are also a big no no. Monkeys react to the rustle of plastic like hungry school kids to the dinner bell.

Rule 3:

Do not wear a backpack. Even if it doesn’t contain food, the monkeys are going to check it out.

Rule 4:

 Observe  from a safe distance. Most cameras have fairly powerful zooms these days. You do not need to be within spitting distance (and monkeys can spit) to get a great shot.

Rule 5:

If, despite the above precautions, a monkey leaps onto your back, try not to scream (even if others are screaming). Remain very still and quiet. Hopefully it will get bored and jump off. On no account attempt to prise it off. For obvious reasons.

Gibraltar monkeys

Rule 6:

Avoid eye contact. The monkey will regard this as a challenge and could attack. And always look away – you don’t want a monkey’s bottom in your face (see video).

Rule 7:

If the monkey starts grooming your hair,  relax! There’s no cause for alarm  (unless you’re wearing a toupé). This is ‘sociable’ monkey behaviour. The less hair you have, the quicker the monkey will get bored (see video).

Rule 8:

Smile! You’re on Candid Camera

Rule 9:

A piece of advice for those filming the interaction. Stand clear when the monkey leaps off your ‘subject’. Swearing on video is uncouth and an effing fiddle (oops) to to bleep out.

Rule 10:

When you get home, wash everything the monkey has come into contact with. Otherwise, you won’t half pong!

As this post went to press, nine monkeys were being fitted with HD cameras and GPS tracking collars to monitor their movements.

Read more about the Barbary macaques on the VisitGibraltar website.

In Conclusion

Everyone is familiar with the old superstition that, if the monkeys ever leave The Rock, the British will lose Gibraltar. Winston Churchill took it so seriously when the monkey population dwindled to seven, during WW2, he broke off fighting the enemy to order reinforcements.

If it turned out he went to all that trouble for nothing, he’d be pretty pi**ed off.

For this reason, I would like to share the following cautionary video, starring Dave and a female Barbary macaque called Minkey (in honour of Peter Sellers).

Please be warned, this video contains mildly strong language. (Better when enlarged to full screen.)

Dave’s Hairy Moment with Minkey the Cheeky Monkey (left)


If you didn’t get the Peter Sellers joke, this will remind you.



You might also enjoy my recent travel feature on The Rock, published in the March/April issue of Essential magazine’s new Gibraltar edition: Tardis Gibraltar: Step Into the Time Machine


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