So here at Wingham Wildlife Park we just celebrated International Macaque week (5th-11th May). This is an annual event to raise awareness about a much neglected group of primates. Not only do we celebrate this event to highlight the diverse range of species of macaques, but also what threats they face in the wild and how that can effect their populations.
What is a Macaque?
A majority of the time I will be asked at the park “How on earth do you pronounce that?” well it can be tricky to pronounce if you have never seen or heard of a macaque before. After hearing many versions such as “Mac-A-Queue” or “Ma-Kay-Key” it is actually quite simple; Ma-Kak.
So what is a Macaque? They are medium sized monkeys, with long faces and cheek pouches for holding food. They mostly reside close to or in forests and arre found throughout Asia and North Africa, however there are exceptions with one species living in Gibraltar making it Europe’s only primate species.
They mainly feed on fruit but they are not fussy and will eat seeds, leaves, flowers and even tree bark (doesn’t sound very appealing!). There are over 20 different species of macaque and they all look very different from each other; from Lion Tailed Macaques with their long tails, black hair and impressive greyish mane to Japanese macaques with their grey hair and bright red faces.
There are several with very odd looking ‘hairstyles’ such as the Toque (pronounced Toke) macaque which almost has a 1960’s Beatles hairdo and the Sulawesi macaque with its almost Grinch-like pointy hair.
My point is that there are a lot of diverse differences with these amazing primates!
Our macaques at Wingham
So here at the park we have a troop of 6 Barbary Macaques (Macaca sylvanus). Barbary’s are yellowish grey to brown in colour and males are larger than the females with an average weight of 15kg and females roughly around 10kg, and they have a life expectancy of 25-30 years.
Our dominant male in the group is called Momo (an impressive specimen may I add) and a favourite amongst the primate keepers. Well I say a favourite amongst keepers, we all like him and he dislikes me mostly! Then we have our females; Memouna, Jo, Dahlia, Hasna and Hayatt. I shouldn’t pick favourites but Jo and Hayatt are up there in my personal opinion! Probably why Momo isn’t happy with me!
Barbary Macaques are native to North Africa making it the only macaque species outside of Asia but also the only wild species to be found in Europe, on the island of Gibraltar (however they are not a native group but are an introduced population). They live in large groups and spend a lot of time socialising with their troop, they do this by grooming each other and this helps to strengthen their bonds and unlike other primate species, males will pull their weight and will care for infants and form close bonds with them.
They are not a fussy bunch with their diet, consisting of mainly plants but will eat fruits, seeds, leaves and insects and here at the park we feed them on a pure veg diet although they seem to really dislike courgette!
So during International Macaque Week we wanted to celebrate our macaques by giving them some tasty treats and fun enrichment, which we did for the most part, however it did coincide with our routine worming treatment (I will add that they REALLY dislike wormer medication) and we had to come up with new ingenious ideas to get them to take it, so we decided to break with the all-veg diet and give them a tasty treat by providing their medication in banana.
They are a really fun species to work with here at Wingham even though Momo will try his best to make my day that little bit harder when it comes to cleaning their enclosure or shifting him, but that being said I wouldn’t change him for the world!
Unfortunately Barbary macaques are classed as an endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) with quite a few threats facing them in the wild. The main threat that they face is actually from humans, whether it is agriculture (farming and livestock farming) expansion taking away their natural habitat or they are hunted or captured for the use of pets or for the illegal wildlife trade.
There are many charities out there that raise awareness of the threats they face however, there is still a lot of work needed to be done to reduce their declining numbers.
There are conservation sites identified that need to be managed to keep it a healthy ecosystem for the macaques to thrive and also protected to stop the amount of human conflict with macaques. Other ways of conservation is new legislation to protect macaques and their habitats but also training and education of local people who live amongst macaques. More research is needed mainly in population sizes and population trends to have an insight into how Barbary Macaque numbers will fare in the future.
I do not want to end this with all doom and gloom but just to highlight what these wonderful species face in the wild and hopefully with new conservation methods their numbers will increase in the near future!! So to conclude Macaques are a very underrated species of monkeys and need to be celebrated which is why International Macaque Week is a perfect time to shine a light on these amazing animals.
Come and have a day out with these loveable characters soon!