Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- The Barbary macaque is a unique and endangered primate species found in North Africa and Gibraltar, known for its matriarchal social structure and adaptability to extreme temperatures.
- This species is the only macaque found outside of Asia and the only primate species north of the Sahara Desert.
- Barbary macaques are omnivorous and have a varied diet that helps them thrive in their habitat, including fruits, seeds, insects, and fungi.
- Human activities such as illegal capture and trade, deforestation, and hunting have led to significant declines in the Barbary macaque population.
- Conservation efforts are in place to protect and preserve the species, including projects by the Barbary Macaque Awareness and Conservation group and the inclusion of the macaques in protected national parks in Morocco and Algeria.
Barbary macaques are unique primates found north of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. An isolated population can also be found in Gibraltar. These primates live in mid to high-altitude environments in extremely hot and cold temperatures.
Many primates are sensitive to such conditions. However, this adaptable North African primate has a special fur coat and varying diet that helps them thrive in their habitat.
The Barbary macaque is endangered. Various human activities, such as illegal capture & trade and human development, have caused the population to decline for decades.
Let’s take a closer look at the Barbary macaque, including its behaviors, lifestyle, conservation status, and more!
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Classification of the Barbary Macaque
The Barbary macaque is an Old Work monkey species belonging to the family Cercopithecidae. This family includes all Old World monkeys, consisting of more than 130 species.
They belong to the genus Macaca. This includes all macaque species. There are more than 20 macaque species recognized.
Other macaque species are native to northern and southern Asia. The Barbary macaque is quite special. They’re the only macaque species found outside of Asia. They’re also the only primate species somewhat native to Europe.
It’s a common misconception that Barbary macaques are apes because they have short tails. Apes have no tails at all. This has led to mislabeled names like Barbary apes or gibraltar apes.
Geographic Range and Distribution
Barbary macaques are native to Morocco and Algeria in North Africa. A smaller, semi-wild population can be found in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.
The Gibraltar Barbary macaques are the only primates found in the wild in Europe. The Barbary macaque is also the only primate species found north of the Sahara Desert.
The largest population of Barbary macaques occur in the Middle and High Atlas mountains of central Morocco and Rif mountains of northern Morocco.
Approximately 65-75% of the Barbary macaque world population live in central Morocco. A smaller population lives in the Tellian Atlas mountain chain of Algeria.
In Morocco, they live in a variety of forested habitats, such as:
- Mixed cedar and holm-cork oak forests
- Cedar forests
- Oak forests
They also inhabit rocky outcrops with abundant vegetation. Populations are very fragmented. Lower elevation populations may occur in grasslands.
Barbary macaques that live in unprotected areas are at high risk of illegal trade, hunting, and habitat fragmentation. Several parts of the Barbary macaque range are in National Park territories.
Protected areas that Barbary macaques inhabit in Morocco include:
- Eastern High Atlas National Park
- Toubkal National Park
- Ifrane National Park
- Bouhachem Nature Reserve
- Talassemtane National Park
- Djebel Moussa National Park
In Algeria, these primates can be found in Taza National Park, Chréa National Park, Gouraya National Park, and Djurdjura National Park. Home ranges can be anywhere between 1.2-3.5 square miles (3.07-9.01 sq km).
There are approximately 230 Barbary macaques that live in Gibraltar. This population is taken care of by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS). The Gibraltar macaques receive vet care through the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (GVC).
It’s unclear how Barbary macaques arrived in Gibraltar.
Two main theories are considered. One theory suggests the monkeys are descendents of a wild European Barbary macaque population that once existed.
Another theory suggests they were introduced to the area between 711-1494. The first written record of Barbary macaques in the area dates back to 1704.
A study conducted on their mitochondrial DNA confirmed that the Gibraltar population were descendents of Moroccan and Algerian Barbary macaques. Therefore, the most accepted theory would be Moroccan and Algerian Barbary macaques were brought over sometime before 1704.
Barbary macaques have a thick yellowish-brown to grayish-brown fur coat. Their underside is white to cream-colored. They have a bare face and short tail. Their tail is just a stub, measuring only about 0.39 – 0.79 in (1-2 cm) long.
Males are slightly larger than females. From the head to the base of their small tail, males are 21.6-27.6 in (54.9 – 70.1 cm) in length. Females can grow up to 21.6 in (54.9 cm) in length. Males can weigh as much as 27 pounds (12 kg) on average. Females are typically no more than 20 pounds (9.1 kg).
Barbary macaques have a vestigial tail. This means that the tail was once long for ancestral species. However, evolutionary changes deemed the tail unnecessary due their lifestyle.
Most monkeys with longer tails use their tails to support climbing between branches. These are known as prehensile tails.
The small tail stub of the Barbary macaque serves no purpose. Other macaque species have longer tails.
Barbary macaques have strong jaws and prominent canine teeth. They have a special food storage pouch in their cheeks that extends down the neck. Unlike other macaques, Barbary macaques have nasal grooves.
What Do Barbary Macaques Eat?
Barbary macaques have a pretty variable diet. What they eat depends on the time of year and where they live. Food selections are most abundant during the summer. They have less options in the winter as temperatures drop below freezing.
In Gibraltar, Barbary macaques forage for food naturally but their food supply is also supplemented by the GONHS. The primates are supplied with various fruits, seeds, and veggies along with fresh water.
Other foods that Barbary macaques eat in the wild in North Africa include:
- Acorns from oak trees
- Insects and spiders
- Wild olives
In warmer months, Barbary macaques enjoy a variety of fruits, berries, seeds, and fungi. Their diet becomes limited to leaves, seeds, and tree bark in the winter.
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Group Dynamics and Behavior
Barbary macaques have a unique social system. Many primates live in groups controlled and protected by a single dominant male and multiple females. But the Barbary macaque monkey hierarchy is actually dominated by females.
Hierarchical rank is established based upon the lineage of the female leader of a troop or group.
This type of system is interesting because in male-dominated primate groups, males often keep their distance to reduce hostility. However, Barbary macaque males don’t exhibit this type of hostile behavior towards other males.
A troop of Barbary macaques can have up to 80 individuals. Most groups have an average of 25-40 individuals.
There isn’t a huge imbalance between the number of females to males in a group. Within a group, males may form subgroups with other males which has its own ranking system.
Like other primates, Barbary macaques participate in daily grooming. They groom each other to form stronger social bonds.
Mating and Reproduction
Barbary macaques have a polygynandrous mating system. This means that females and males have multiple partners. Both males and females take part in caring for the young.
Since males mate with nearly every female in the group, they often don’t know which babies are their own. Males will take care of young that belong to other members of the group.
Since males and females both take part in caring for young, females reproduce faster than some other primates.
Caring for and weaning young is often hard work and takes a lot of energy. Other female primate species may only reproduce every 2-3 years to spend time caring for their young until they’re fully weaned. Barbary macaque females reproduce every 1-2 years.
The gestation period is about 5-6 months. It takes about one year for the young to be fully weaned. This means they become independent and can forage for food by themselves.
Females reach sexual maturity between 2.5-4 years. Males reach sexual maturity between 4.5-7 years. Once males have reached sexual maturity, they break off from their birth group and join another. Females remain within their birth group.
Barbary macaques are at risk for extinction due to various human activities. They first appeared on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in 1986 as Vulnerable.
In 2008, their status was updated from Vulnerable to Endangered. Barbary macaques were last assessed by the IUCN in August 2016 and remain endangered. Their population has continued to decrease.
The population was once estimated to be about 21,000 individuals in 1975. However, their population has dropped by more than 50% over the last few decades.
In 2016, Mongabay reported that there were about 6,500-9,100 Barbary macaques left in North Africa. There are about 230 individuals that make up the Gibraltar population.
The North African primate population is subject to illegal wildlife trafficking and trading and habitat destruction. Barbary macaques are often taken out of their habitats and sold for the tourism or pet trade.
These creatures are seen on city streets in Morocco strapped to chains with a handler. The handlers use these primates to make money.
The monkeys are trained to do tricks and take pictures with tourists. This is an extremely harmful environment for these monkeys. They also live in small cages and aren’t fed a proper diet.
Other harmful actions that negatively affect the North African Barbary macaque population include:
- Deforestation and human development
- Cannabis cultivation
The Gibraltar Barbary macaques have more protection. Since they’re cared for by the GONHS, they don’t experience the same risks as the North African population.
Conservation Efforts to Protect Barbary Macaques
Several conservation groups have initiatives in place to try and protect Barbary macaques in Morocco.
The Barbary Macaque Awareness and Conservation (BMAC) group has launched a number of projects to preserve the population. They’ve worked with local authorities and communities to prevent illegal trade. They’ve also launched projects to educate the public in Morocco about the species.
The “Just Say No” campaign was launched to inform tourists about the harms that can be done by paying into Barbary macaques performances and photo ops on Moroccan streets.
Barbary macaques are also labeled as an Appendix I species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list.
Animals listed in the Appendix I category are at high risk of extinction. Species in this list receive the most protection, which includes heavy restrictions on international trade.
Despite these efforts, the world’s Barbary macaque population is still declining. Although portions of the Moroccan monkey’s range is in protected areas, illegal capture and trade still occurs.
Until illegal trading and human encroachment upon their habitat is under control, the population will continue to suffer.
What’s the Difference Between Monkeys and Apes?
Monkeys and apes are both primates, so they fall under the same order. Apes are closely related to monkeys belonging to the parvorder Catarrhini. Multiple superfamilies fall under this parvorder, such as Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea) and apes (Hominoidea).
It would be incorrect to refer to monkeys as apes or vice versa. Apes belong in their own superfamily.
There are a few physical differences that can help you determine whether a primate is a monkey or an ape. One of the most noticeable differences is the lack of a tail. All apes don’t have tails.
Most monkeys have tails, although some don’t. This is why Barbary macaque monkeys are often confused with apes.
But there are a few other notable differences, such as size. Apes are typically larger than monkeys. They also have a broader chest.
Monkeys typically walk on all fours, which is known as quadrupedalism. Some monkeys, such as the bald uakari, are quadrupeds and bipeds. This means they may walk on all fours or on two feet. It’s more common to see apes walk on two feet and all fours.
A less noticeable difference between apes and monkeys is intelligence. Monkeys are known to be highly intelligent and social creatures. However, apes usually have a bigger brain to match their body size.
Research conducted has shown that apes have greater cognitive and communication abilities.
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Barbary Macaque FAQs
Are Gibraltar Barbary macaques native to Europe?
The Gibraltar Barbary macaques have ancestral ties to the North African Barbary macaques.
The Barbary macaque was once thought to exist in large ranges of Europe and the Mediterranean. Therefore, the Gibraltar territory isn’t an unnatural environment for these monkeys. But the most well accepted theory for the Gibraltar species is they were introduced to the area long ago.
They’re also not considered fully wild because they receive additional care and maintenance from the GONHS and GVC.
How cold is Morocco in the winter?
Morocco has an average winter temperature between 45-65 degrees F. Coastal regions may be warmer.
As you move more inland and in higher altitudes, temperatures may be lower. In the Middle and High Atlas mountains, temperatures drop significantly in the winter and may stay below freezing.
What’s the most endangered macaque species?
Several macaque species are listed as Vulnerable or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra) and Pagai Island macaque (Macaca pagensis) are both listed as Critically Endangered.
There are 3,700 or fewer Pagai Island macaques limited to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The celebes crested macaque population has declined by more than 80% in the last few decades.