British passengers sailing away from Gibraltar on board P& O ship Oriana. Territory hotly disputed between Spain & the UK
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An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from the Kingdom of Castile in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It was an important base for the Royal Navy; today its economy is based largely on tourism, online gaming, financial services, and shipping.[
Legend has it that as long as the Barbary apes roam the rock of Gibraltar, the territory will remain safely under British rule.
The British have embraced this particular piece of folklore for centuries; not even Churchill, in the throes of World War II, dared to disregard it. In 1944, with British morale battered by the war and the Rock’s monkey population dwindling, he took no chances. He ordered a shipment of Barbary macaques from Morocco, a short hop across the strait.
The 200 or so roving monkeys, a k a Barbary apes, on Gibraltar like to perch on tourists for pictures and on cars for treats.
Little did Churchill envision how big the monkey population would grow, nor the shenanigans that would come along with it.
There are now nearly 230 tailless Barbary monkeys on Gibraltar, and they do not merely live on the Rock so much as dominate it. As the last free-ranging monkeys left in Europe, the macaques happily milk that privilege, oblivious to the consternation they provoke among the Rock’s other set of primates, their human neighbors.
The monkeys do have a dedicated home, an ape den, at the reservoir up on the limestone rock that constitutes the bulk of tiny Gibraltar. But they are free to stray, and they do so, mostly in a quest for Kit-Kat bars, shady spaces, fruit trees, swimming pools and human toys. They have a special affinity for the purses, shiny cameras and plastic shopping bags that people tote around.
And they have grown so used to the kindness of tourists and tour guides that little will frighten them away, not even the sharp flick of a broom or the shrill screams of children.