Barbary Macaque Fact File

Macaca sylvanus








Wild 22 years

Captive 30 years



Fruits, Insects

Conservation Status



The barbary macaque is a native of northern Africa being the only species of macaque found outside of Asia. They are likely best known though from the introduced population in the British territory of Gibraltar.

These animals are omnivores and feed on roots, bark, fruits and insects.

Confusingly this species is often referred to as the barbary ape but is in fact a monkey. This nickname comes from the lack of a visible tail which is an adaptation as they no longer have a use for one.

Unfortunately the species is endangered primarily due to habitat loss and capture for the pet trade or use as props in tourist photos.

Read on to learn more about these precious primates.


Barbary macaques may also be referred to as barbary apes but this is incorrect. The species is a type of monkey. The term ape was used in reference to their lack of a tail a characteristic most often associated with apes.

A small vestigial tail is present at the end of the body. This is a product of evolution as the tail is no longer required.

They are covered with a thick coat of fur which protects them against cold temperatures. Their body is covered by yellowish-gray and grayish-brown fur. The fur on the stomach and chest is lighter than the rest of the body.

An average barbary macaque will measure 63cm (24.75in) long with a weight of 12.5kg (27.5lbs).


Barbary macaques are omnivores. They will feed on roots, bark, seeds, sprouts, herbs, flowers, fruits and insects.

Most of their foraging takes place on the ground.

The population in Europe is reliant on supplementary feeding by humans.

Barbary macaques are equipped with cheek pouches which can store around the same amount of food as their stomach does.

Barbary Macaque


Barbary macaques are the only species of primate found in Europe. They were introduced by the Romans and today a small colony thrives on the rock of Gibraltar.

Their native range is in Africa where they live in Algeria and Morocco. They have been declared extinct in Tunisia.

They are the only members of their genus, Macaca to live outside of Asia.


Barbary macaques can be found in cedar and oak forests, scrub and rocky slopes. Today most populations live in rocky areas and gorges due to conflicts with humans in areas that are suitable for habitation.

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Breeding takes place in winter and spring shows a peak in births following the 5-7 month gestation period. Both males and females will mate with multiple partners during the breeding season. This is thought to mask which is the father of any individual young in the group so the males will help with care for all of them.

When females are in estrus they exhibit anogenital swelling.

Each year the female will give birth a single young. Twins are born on rare occasions.

These primates engage in alloparenting, this behavior sees all females in the troop assist with care for any young even if they're not directly related.

Weaning takes place at 12 months old.

Sexual maturity is reached by four years old for females while males may take up to seven years to mature.


Populations of the barbary macaque form groups with multiple females which tend to be sisters and cousins of one another. The males will move between troops to ensure they are not interbreeding. Each group may have as many as 100 members.

These groups are known as troops.

Males have a social hierarchy with the highest ranked males mating with the most females. Females are dominant within the troop and have their own hierarchical structure.

As part of their social behavior they will groom one another. This reduces stress while strengthening the bond between group members and keeps the fur bug free.

To show affection to one another they will chatter their teeth together.

Barbary macaques are active during the day. Groups will sleep together in small clusters.

These hardy primates are able to survive both in arid conditions and extreme cold.

Barbary Macaque
Barbary Macaque

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the barbary macaque include eagles, leopards, jackals, red foxes and dogs.

At present the population of the barbary macaque is believed to be declining. The primary threat to their survival which is driving this decline is habitat loss and degradation.

Other threats include overgrazing by live stock, fencing and pollution of water sources and conflicts with local people when they raid crops. Some reports exist of collection for food.

Another major threat to the species is the wildlife trade. They will be captured for sale as pets or to be used as a photo prop.

On Gibraltar

The barbary macaques on Gibraltar come from introductions by the Romans. At the time of writing the colony includes around 350 individuals living in five troops.

This colony is reliant upon supplemental feeding and also receives care from veterinarians. Each animal is microchipped for tracking and a census is taken each year to check numbers.

Over time the group have become a major tourist attraction in the area.

It is a popular belief that the territory of Gibraltar will remain under British rule for as long as the barbary macaques are present. In 1942 the population reached a low of seven individuals and an order was given by UK prime minister Winston Churchill to replenish the numbers from troops in Morocco and Algeria.

Previously the apes were said to be under the care of the British army and then the Gibraltar regiment. This ended in 1991 when the Government of Gibraltar took over their care.

In recent years increasing numbers have caused an issue. In 2008 a group which were causing issues within part of the territory were culled. In 2014 a group of 30 of the barbary macaques were sent to Blair Drummond Safari Park in Scotland.

Quick facts

Their name comes from the Barbary Coast in North West Africa.

This species is also known as the barbary ape despite being a monkey or alternatively as the magot. In Gibraltar they are known as monos meaning monkeys.

Until the Ice Age the species was found across much of Europe as far north as Germany with a skull dated to the third century BC even being found in Northern Ireland.

Barbary Macaque

Photo Credits

All Images

Public Domain


Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Burnie, D., 2019. Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia. UK: Kingfisher Books Ltd.

Folly Farm. 2021. Barbary Macaques – Fun Facts & Information For Kids. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Barbary macaque | primate. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

Wallis, J., Benrabah, M.E., Pilot, M., Majolo, B. & Waters, S. 2020. Macaca sylvanusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T12561A50043570. Downloaded on 26 August 2021.

Safari Niagara. 2021. Barbary Ape - Safari Niagara. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

Jinn, J. 2011. "Macaca sylvanus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 26, 2021 at 2021. Barbary macaque. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

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