GIBRALTAR’S top tourist attraction – its emblematic Barbary macaques – have been demoted to the status of ‘pests’ in a government TV advert.
Harsh but true.
The cute cartoon commercial sponsored by Gibraltar’s Department of the Environment and premiered on GBC TV this month urges people to use new monkey-proof bins in a bid to keep marauding macaques out of town.
While acknowledging that the monkeys are ‘an asset to Gibraltar while they remain in their natural habitat’ the commentary says: “If people don’t use these facilities and leave the rubbish out in the open this amounts to inviting macaques to a banquet right on our doorstep. We must contribute to solving the pest problem by disposing of our rubbish correctly.”
One problem… Nothing is monkey-proof for long to a clever Barbary macaque. Gibraltar’s enterprising primates have even learned how to unzip backpacks!
And there’s another snag. The macaques have a direct path into town along the stone wall running from the Upper Rock Nature Reserve to the Trafalgar Cemetery (much to the chagrin of Nelson the cemetery cat). From there, they can embark on a foraging free-for all that’s gone beyond poking around in dustbins.
My boyfriend Dave is doing up a house opposite the cemetery, where daylight-monkey-robbery is a regular occurrence when windows are left open. Leave your packed lunch out on the kitchen worktop and pretty soon there’ll be a monkey perched on the window ledge, smiling in at you with your banana in its teeth.
Turn your back on your shopping and before you can say “monkey nuts” there’ll be a macaque with its paw stuck in your tube of Pringles. Even paint sample cans are stolen and inspected for edibles by these fearless furballs.
And be careful when waiting for a bus in these parts. Like the man on the bench Dave spotted through the window who hadn’t noticed the fellow traveller sitting at the other end until he turned to speak to him. When he realised he was about to address not another human being but a distant cousin, searching its fur for fleas, he was gone faster than last week’s pay packet!
Mind you, the smarter monkeys don’t bother with buses. They hitch a lift into the town centre on car rooftops!
Things have come to a pretty pass when you can’t enjoy traditional cream tea on the Wisteria Terrace of the Rock Hotel without monkeys muscling in. Recently, two burly males staged a flank attack on my scone and jam, and my tea and I had to be rescued by a heroic waiter.
As Gibraltar’s Health and Environment Minister Dr John Cortes rightly says, “It’s not an over-population problem or even a monkey problem – it’s a human problem.”
No wonder he has nightmares about them. He’s caught between a Rock and a hard place trying to protect people from Europe’s only free living primate and vice-versa.
Alas, like their human relatives, the monkeys want more: the Freedom of the City. And, for the moment, it looks like they’re winning.