Naughty Monkeys Banished To Scotland

Barbary Macaque on the Rock Of Gibraltar
Getty Mother and baby macaque on The Rock of Gibralter.

Wildlife officials on Gibraltar are sending a cargo plane off to Scotland this week with a special gift on board: 30 of their most mischievous monkeys.

The officials, who care for Gibraltar's world-famous population of tail-less Barbary macaques, have rounded up the naughtiest members of the tribe, and are holding them in quarantine in preparation for their exile to Scotland.

"We don't consider them exiled. We consider them as ambassadors," Gibraltar's Environment Minister John Cortes told reporters at a news conference.

The macaques are a top tourist attraction on Gibraltar, the tiny British territory located strategically at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula and close to the coast of North Africa. The macaques, who live atop the Rock of Gibraltar, are the only monkeys living in freedom in Europe. They are descendants of natives of Morocco or Algeria, and are presumed to have been brought across the Mediterranean by sailors several centuries ago.

Trentham Estate, Staffordshire, England

Gibraltar's tourism site proclaims the macaques to be "friendly, charming and inquisitive," but urges visitors to "watch out for monkey business."

Lately, it seems a particular pack of hell-raising macaques have been roaming far from their home at the top of The Rock to raid rubbish bins, swipe picnic lunches from unwary diners and otherwise create mayhem among the human population, which numbers about 30,000. The malefactors were identified by using GPS collar tags, which showed which ones had wandered too far, and were then rounded up one by one.

Eric Shaw, the head of Gibraltar's monkey management team, told the press conference that humans are to blame for all the monkey business. "It's not their fault. It's our fault," he said. "The problem is that we are encroaching on their territory, and we have to understand that we share this Rock with wild animals."

Luckily, the operators of the Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling in central Scotland, are willing and eager to offer the roguish macaques a home. A special rocky enclosure has been prepared for them, complete with a heated indoor home in case Scotland's chilly climate comes as a rude awakening.

The 120-acre Blair Drummond park is already home to camels, elephants, a Clydesdale horse, penguins, and various other species not generally spotted in Scotland. The zookeepers are currently awaiting the birth of a Southern white rhino.

Baby barbary macaque
University of Lincoln Barbary Macaque Project

"Our aim is to make their lives as natural as possible," said Craig Holmes, head of the macaque section at the Scottish park. Barbary macaques are said to be highly adaptable, and their North African cousins often live at high altitudes.

The monkeys, accompanied by two veterinarians, are expected to depart Gibraltar on Tuesday aboard a chartered plane headed for Gatwick Airport near London. From there, they will travel by road to the Stirling safari park.

"We wish our monkeys a safe journey and a happy future in Scotland," Cortes said.

Wildlife officials in Gibraltar were relieved to find a solution that did not include a cull of the monkey population, which has reached 200 from the usual 160. The government last carried out a cull five years ago, after an unfortunate incident during which an earlier band of perps went on a rampage, trashing hotel rooms and looting garbage bins.

Meanwhile, visitors to Gibraltar may be due for a crackdown on their own bad behavior. The wildlife specialists say that the monkeys may have come to town in search of snacks, which are too often offered illegally by tourists visiting their home atop The Rock.

"We will now continue to develop the management plan, and it is vitally important that the public cooperates by not providing feeding opportunities that would once again attract monkeys to built-up areas," Cortes said.

Gibraltar's residents have good reason to protect their remaining compatriots. Legend says that Gibraltar will cease to be British if the last macaque leaves The Rock. The Barbary macaque is listed as an endangered species.
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