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‘Mexican standoff’ as macaque troop strays into another’s patch

Footage of two packs of Barbary macaques clashing at the top of the Rock has been described as little more than “a family squabble” by experts familiar with the behaviour of Gibraltar’s famous monkeys.

The footage, which went viral after being shared on social media, showed two groups of monkeys baring teeth and facing off loudly in the area of Prince Philip’s Arch.

But although the scenes appear dramatic to the untrained eye, experts said it was the result of one pack straying into another’s territory.

While such incidents are rare in the world of Gibraltar’s macaques, they are not unheard of.

“It was a big Mexican standoff,” said Dr Eric Shaw, who heads the Barbary macaque management team.

“It was a lot of shouting over nothing.”

Having viewed the footage, Dr Shaw said it appeared the pack from the Ape’s Den had strayed into the territory of the pack at Prince Philip’s Arch.

He said his team would monitor the packs closely in the coming weeks to see if there was a reoccurrence and, if so, whether there were any underlying reasons prompting the unusual behaviour.

For now though, the working theory is that this was a one-off incident.

“It seems they’ve decided to walk up there and they’ve bumped into each other,” he said.

“Normally this wouldn’t happen because one or two males would be keeping a lookout, but that wasn’t the case on this occasion.”

Mr Shaw’s assessment was backed in broad terms by Brian Gomila, a local primatologist who heads Monkey Talk Gibraltar and runs educational outings to observe macaques in the wild.

Mr Gomila said aggression between groups was far less common than within groups, although it does occur.

He agreed that all the indications pointed to the Apes Den troop challenging the Prince Philip’s Arch monkeys.

“Why this happened is anyone's guess,” he said.

“However I have circumstantial evidence based on observations that a matriline from the PPA troop has splintered off, weakening the troop.”

“As far as the Apes Den Troop is concerned now was the best time they have had in a long time in testing the resolve of the PPA troop. This is therefore predominantly a social dispute, not one for resources.”

“This said, what I am most impressed with is the fact that in the frenzy, the macaques are completely focused on each other and any and all aggression and vocalisations is directed between themselves and not at any of the passing tourists.”

“All in all quite amazing scenes which I would have loved to have experienced first hand.”

Although Gibraltar’s Barbary macaques are commonly referred to as apes, they are in fact tailless monkeys.

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