Young macaques thrill visitors with Upper Rock nature show
Gibraltar has 24 new Barbary macaques and the young monkeys are putting on a cute show for visitors to the Upper Rock nature reserve.
Locals and tourists alike are being treated to the sight of infants ranging from weeks to days old.
Some are so young they simply suckle their mothers or cling onto males within the pack. But the older ones are already taking their first steps, frolicking and clambering as they take their place as the youngest members of their respective packs.
The original number of monkeys born this year was 27, but two were stillborn and another was bitten by a dog near St Michael’s Cave and did not survive the attack.
The male infant was found with lacerations to the abdomen and taken to the vet, who said it was definitely a dog bite.
The vet stitched the small macaque up and gave it antibiotics but the monkey was too frail to survive the traumatic attack.
The killing of the new-born highlights the need for dog owners to ensure their pets are kept on a tight leash.
Like humans, macaques seem to mourn the loss of their babies, although there is only limited scientific research on this.
“They [the macaques] will know that the baby is dead, but it is not uncommon for the mother to carry it for several days sometimes weeks and they will get quite defensive of them,” said Tessa Feeney, a Researcher and Wildlife Operative in Primatology for the Ape Management Team.
“They do not pretend that the monkey is alive [but] even if they are not picking them up and leaving them somewhere, when we go to remove the body they will chase us away.”
Each new-born is so fragile that for the first few months of their life, they are not officially part of the population list of macaques or named by the Ape Management team.
When a baby is born the mother holds onto it closely, having one arm wrapped securely around it while moving about on three legs. Within a matter of days, the mother is strong and confident enough to move freer with her new-born.
New-born macaques can be just as inquisitive as human babies and do not hesitate to ‘taste’ everything. Even if they are still breastfeeding, they will put food in their mouth.
New-born monkeys are well looked after by members of their pack. Each mother feeds, nourishes and protects its baby and the male members of the pack ensure the new-born is safe.
While I observed the macaques by the top of the Rock a new-born macaque tried to climb up a step but was unable to do so. It let out a squeal and within moments two males were by its side.
One quickly picked the young monkey up and started to nuzzle it, while the other checked it over for any injuries.
Researchers say the males’ protective behaviour could be a way of making themselves attractive to potential mates.
The males have a natural level of tolerance for the new-borns.
Juvenile monkeys that annoy older males are swiftly brought into check, but baby macaques can pretty much get away with anything, Miss Feeney said.
It is very common to see two males fussing over a new-born. One will be holding the baby and both will be smacking their lips to communicate that all is ok and there is no aggression.
On occasion, when there has been an argument between two males, one may take the baby off another macaque and go up to the other male carrying the baby in a way of reconciling.
Because macaques will not fight in front of a baby, it calms down the tension. The monkeys end up fussing over the new-born and ignoring their differences instead.
Macaques are “really good” at solving their arguments, Miss Feeney said.
“It’s not that they don’t have fights and squabbles, [but] their tolerance means they end it there and then and get over it very quickly,” she added.