Date: Dec, 2014
Location: Upper Rock, Gibraltar, UK
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. It has an area of 2.3 square miles and shares its northern border with the Province of Cádiz in Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region with a densely populated city area at it’s foot, home to almost 30,000 people. It is also the only spot where you can see two continents and two seas with the naked eye.
An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It was an important base for the Royal Navy; today its economy is based largely on tourism, gambling, financial services, and shipping.
The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defense and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the UK Government.
The Rock of Gibraltar, a 1398ft high monolithic limestone promontory, was one of the Pillars of Hercules and known to the Romans as Mons Calpe. Together with the other pillar on the African side of the Strait (disputed between Mons Abyla or Jebel Musa), marked the limit to the known world in ancient times, a myth originally fostered by the Greeks and the Phoenicians.
Most of the Rock’s upper area, about 40% of Gibraltar’s land area, was declared a nature reserve in 1993. It is home to African Barbary Macaques (more below) as well as a labyrinthine network of caves and tunnels. The Rock has also been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, because it is a migratory bottleneck, for an estimated 250,000 raptors that cross the Strait annually, and it supports breeding populations of Barbary partridges and lesser kestrels.
The Douglas Lookout is a ruins of a WWII lookout at the top of The Rock built close to the site of an earlier Moorish Lookout. Little is known about the Moorish Lookout, although it may well date back to the time of the foundation of the Madinat al-Fath (the City of Victory) by Caliph Abd al-Mumin in 1160.
The largest numbers of macaques can be seen at Ape’s Den, next to the Middle Cable Car Station.
The Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population in the European continent and, unlike that of North Africa, it is thriving. At present, some 300 macaques in five troops occupy the Upper Rock. All Gibraltar Barbary macaques are descended from North African populations. DNA evidence has established beyond doubt the present population is of relatively recent Algerian and Moroccan origin. An earlier theory, now disproven by the DNA evidence, was that the original Gibraltar macaques were a remnant of populations that had spread throughout Southern Europe during the Pliocene, up to 5.5 million years ago. The macaque population had been present on the Rock of Gibraltar long before Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704. One legend suggests they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar via an underground tunnel which connected Morocco to Gibraltar, emerging at St. Michael’s Cave. It is more likely they were introduced by the Moors who kept them as pets.
Today, a popular belief holds that as long as Gibraltar Barbary macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. In 1942, during WWII, after the population dwindled to just a handful of seven monkeys, then British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill ordered their numbers be replenished immediately from forest fragments in both Morocco and Algeria.
The species is listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and is declining. About 75% of the total population is found in the Middle Atlas mountains. Recently, however, their numbers in Gibraltar have been increasing rapidly and a range of control measures from contraceptive implants to relocation into European zoos have been implemented.