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Montagu Youth Centre visits macaques in their natural environment

Teenagers from the Montagu Youth Centre recently attended a Heritage Award-winning Macaque Educational Outing led by Brian Gomila.

Mr Gomila, who hosts exclusive outings to the Upper Rock, explained that “often locals do not tend to be as fond of the macaques as tourists are.”

“Sometimes all it takes is a bad experience with one for us to be fearful of them”.

“Arguably they are Gibraltar’s most famous tourist attraction and marketed as such, but they are so much more than this.”

“First and foremost, locals should be able to feel as though they can genuinely enjoy the macaques safely, otherwise there is nothing tangible to them for coexisting with monkeys,” which is what the Monkey Talk excursions aim to achieve.

The goal for the outing was for the participants to spend time with the macaques in their natural environment, non-intrusively, getting to experience them as part of the wildlife.

Spending time with the macaques in their natural habitat bears no resemblance to seeing them interacting with tourists for treats by the roadside, a practice which is still commonplace, contrary to the Animals (Amendment) Act 2020, as guides seem to prefer showing off the macaques as opposed to educating the public.

In contrast, here the young people observed the macaques foraging naturally without the competition that ensues when they have to fight off other macaques for treats.

Furthermore, learning about the macaques as primates, in the same way that humans are primates, added relevance to what they were seeing.

The participants learnt about the monkeys’ social behaviour, including how macaque males migrate from the troop they are born into and try to establish themselves in a new troop.

They also learnt about a particular subordinate female which has her own behaviour of sucking on a leaf; a habit which serves as a ‘pacifier’ to ease her nerves when more dominant macaques may be too close for comfort.

They also observed a mayor social dispute involving several males, Mr Gomila explaining that intra-group conflicts are a daily occurrence, but “ultimately, like us, what determines how good a relationship between any two macaques is not the number of conflicts they have but rather the percentage of those conflicts that get reconciled subsequently as this is an indicator of how much they value one another and may be willing to forego so as not to lose that relationship over a particular dispute/misunderstanding.”

After the outing, Callum said, “I had no idea the monkeys behaved this way to be honest – I feel I understand them better now”, whilst Alesha claimed she now had a respect for the monkeys she didn’t have before.

Overall, the young people may have arrived with a preconception of the macaques, but they left with a much more positive impression of the only free-living, non-human primates most Gibraltarians will come into contact with.

Mr Gomila hoped that the experience proved to be an eye-opener and helped instil a greater appreciation towards the Rock’s macaques.

The young people will now embark on a project-based learning activity that will encapsulate all that they experienced in their outing.

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