Wildlife & Wild Places

Can Wild Monkeys Hang With Humans?

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

That classic mantra seems to have been adopted by the macaques living on the rock of Gibraltar. The monkeys are endangered and facing habitat loss, but rather than retreat to what remains of their natural environment, they’ve made themselves quite comfortable in urban areas and have even mastered the art of working tourists for tasty hand-outs.

Interested in learning more about this interspecies interaction, National Geographic grantee and anthropologist, Agustín Fuentes, recruited the director of National Geographic’s Crittercram program, Kyler Abernathy, to attach cameras to the particularly fluffy monkeys.

The Crittercam footage will help Fuentes evaluate the consequences of macaque-human relationships.  Abernathy explains: “Are the macaques eating foods that are natural resources? Or how dependent are they on the handouts of food from people? Fuentes can see the human feeding interactions, but he couldn’t see what was happening when they might be off eating natural foods.”

After reviewing the initial Crittercam footage, Abernathy and Fuentes observed that the macaques are in fact foraging for natural resources and the researchers were even able to distinguish particular plants. “It’s important to know which plants they’re using, and make sure those stay available so they don’t become completely dependent on handouts from the humans,” says Abernathy.

This information is helping the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) to develop a management plan to ensure that macaques and humans coexist as peacefully as possible, but that only represents a fraction of the macaques’ complex lives, Abernathy says. “The interactions between the macaques and the tourists at Gibraltar are almost like a staged tourist theater. We want to know about the rest of their life … what I might even call their ‘real life.’ And that’s what the Crittercam’s going to show us.”

Learn more about Crittercam’s work with the macaques of Gibraltar in the Explorer’s Journal blog.

Nora Rappaport is a producer and editor on National Geographic’s Science and Exploration Media team. She produces content that highlights the awe-inspiring work of National Geographic explorers around the globe. When not working with her colleagues to inspire people to care about the planet, Nora can be found hanging out with any number of dogs.

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