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Relocation of the Last Colony of Endangered Barbary Apes on Display in a US Zoo?

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The accredited Primate Rescue Center, a Kentucky wildlife sanctuary specializing in Old World primates, will soon care for a small troop of endangered naturally tailless Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) from the Las Vegas Zoo.

The four monkeys were once claimed by the troubled roadside Las Vegas Zoo (AKA Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park) to be the last and only members of the species to be displayed at a North American Zoological facility. Toronto Zoo currently holds Barbary macaques, albeit off-exhibit.

The four macaques and a chimpanzee named Terry are being relocated after the recent and sudden closing of the Zoo.

Barbary macaques are also known as Barbary apes or rock apes because they are tailless, resembling apes.

These primates have a unique distribution for not only macaques, but for Old World primates in general. The ‘apes’ are found in the Rif, and High Atlas mountains of Morocco, Chréa National Park and the Kabylie mountains of Algeria, and British Gibraltar.

The established population in Gibraltar is comprised of introduced individuals, which exist in a semi-wild state.

Among the 22 extant (living) species of macaques recognized, the Barbary macaque is the only species to be found outside of Asia, and represents the only extant species of primate in Africa, north of the Sahara desert. The historic range of the Barbary Ape included much of North Africa and parts of Europe.

Presumed to be of Moroccan or Algerian descent, the five troops of approximately 300 Barbary macaques in Gibraltar are considered to be, perhaps, the healthiest population of free-ranging Barbary macaques in the world and the most popular tourist attraction in the region. Today the troops, which were introduced in the 700’s, are managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.

The Queen’s Gate troop is particularly popular because of their history of close contact with people.  However, feeding of the troop is now prohibited and punishable by law because it has been deemed detrimental to social dynamics and integrity of the monkey social units.  In fact, in some cases the feeding of the monkeys has been implicated in instigating human-monkey conflict in Gibraltar and responsible for marauding Barbary apes in and near human dwellings.

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The nearly two dozen macaque species, which include the more commonly known rhesus macaque or rhesus monkey and Japanese macaque are distributed across the Asian continent from the Japanese Archipelago to Afghanistan and represent the most widespread genus of primates next to humans.

Due to the high percentage of herpes B virus carriers in this Old World monkey genus and the discovery of simian foamy virus in urban performing macaques, these once commonly displayed and studied primates have been phased out of zoological parks. In terms of their study, they have unfortunately been commonly used as animal models in invasive comparative medicine research, despite the objection of animal welfare and rights advocates and activists around the world.

The Las Vegas Zoo’s Barbary macaques were all born at the Zoo and donations to help support their future care can be sent to the Primate Rescue Center. Some other animals have been relocated to the Phoenix Zoo.

According to the Primate Rescue Center’s website, the facility is home to more than 50 primates, including “11 chimpanzees and 10 different species of monkeys.”  The animals in residence “arrived [at the PRC] from research laboratories, where they had been used for everything from invasive medical procedures to human-vaccine testing; others had been abandoned by their owners, confiscated by authorities from those not licensed to keep them, or rescued from squalid, inhumane conditions. Some arrived [at the PRC] well-adjusted and in reasonably good health; others arrived malnourished, or in need of corrective surgery, or so psychologically damaged they shunned all contact with humans and other monkeys.”

Incidentally, the sanctuary facility I work for in Southern California, the Wildlife Waystation, has a rescued crab-eating macaque (AKA cynomolgus monkey) or long-tailed macaque, several New World monkeys and the largest chimpanzee colony in the the region in its care. Similarly, the animals were confiscated by their owners or relocated from research laboratories.

If you are interested in macaques, please read my last post on rhesus monkeys for Nat Geo News