The local flagship species, the Barbary Macaques, have been an integral part of Gibraltar’s tourism growth for many years now, luring in curious travellers from all over the world to observe them in their natural habitat. At the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park you can find two species; eight long-tail macaques and three Barbary Macaques.
Unlike the monkeys (and they are monkeys, not apes – they do in fact have a tiny vestigial tail that can be best seen on babies on the rock), the resident Barbary Macaque group experienced a rough start at life after being abandoned on their way to a zoo in Sri Lanka. Similarly, the Long-tailed Macaques were confiscated from ships making their way to Europe from Indonesia and Africa. It is suspected that they were en route to laboratories, given their status as one of the most highly trafficked animals in the world. Thankfully, the fate of these animals turned around dramatically when they were rescued by Gibraltar Customs and brought to the park.
Steve Perry, senior keeper, has been working at the park for almost two years now following a long zoo career which began in 2000. He’s worked with an array of species, from gorillas and wolves to chimpanzees and bears. Primarily, he was a primate keeper which has been his main interest for many years now.
“Once you get to know them, their different personalities and characters come out and that’s what’s really interesting. Some are more submissive – like La Chica is with Peachy Lou. She runs the show in terms of the females. The others will run away from her if there’s food around.” La Vieja is the Grandma of the group and one of the original confiscated macaques. She is thought to be approaching 25 years old, but still acts like a youngster, and is affectionately referred to as ‘Teapot’ by Steve and the rest of the staff due to her squat and portly appearance.
9:00am – On a typical day, after ensuring everything in the park is in order, Steve will prepare breakfast for the Macaques. “They love their porridge balls,” he says. “They’re long-lasting food, much like you or I would eat porridge for the day.” Sometimes he will add some olive or coconut oil and maybe the odd sultana to mix things up.
11:00am – 1:30pm – At lunch time they’ll be given their main chop which is an assortment of fruit and vegetables to keep their diet as healthy as possible. This diet is a staple throughout the week, however, they do alter it based on what’s in season. It may be leeks, spring onions, peppers, apples or even pears. Later on, maybe some olives or whatever is around gardens to forage on and keep occupied. On hot days they are sometimes given frozen ‘lollies’ made from fruit juice, fruit, seeds and nuts.
2:00pm – 4:30pm – One of the most important aspects of caring for animals in captivity is ensuring they remain stimulated and occupied. Food is a very integral part of that. “If you place something just there in front of them, that’s not very interesting. But if you scatter it around it will keep them busy,” says Steve. In their enclosures, the macaques have natural bark substrate which allows them to pick through and carry out foraging behaviours. Sometimes, for enrichment they’ll be given a raw egg as a treat: “They love that and it’s interesting to see the individuals breaking it in different ways. Some lose most of the eggs, others drop theirs.”
Another way to keep them stimulated self-consciously is by numbers. “Put an animal on its own and it’s not as easy,” says Steve. “The afternoons when its warm is their favourite time. That’s when they do their social grooming and bonding.”
The Alameda Conservation Park is now raising money to create a local biodiversity area where they can house the Barbary Macaques along with other local species. This will be a useful tool in furthering their education efforts, giving greater opportunities for schools and children to learn more about the species. Although in Gibraltar they are plentiful, the Barbary Macaques are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In the past, the park has raised money for BMAC in Morocco, a conservation project that helps fight the illegal wildlife trade and raise awareness on the plight of the species. Their overall goal is to safeguard the future of the Barbary Macaque, a goal the park itself wishes to assist in.
BY AIMEE GABAY