The Barbary macaque is a monkey of many distinctions. It is the only primate, other than humans, north of the Sahara on the African continent, and it’s the only macaque living outside of Asia. Other macaque species once ranged from East Asia to northwest Africa; only the Barbary macaque weathered ecological changes to hold on in Africa.
But it’s not just geography that makes this monkey stand out. With thick ginger fur and intelligent eyes, the toddler-size, tailless macaques have long been coveted—and captured—by passing travelers. Skeletal remains of macaques have been discovered in the ashes of Pompeii, deep within an ancient Egyptian catacomb, and buried beneath an Irish hilltop where the Bronze Age kings of Ulster once held court.
These days the Barbary macaque’s range has dwindled to pockets of forest in Morocco and Algeria, with a semiwild population in Gibraltar. Unfortunately macaques still tempt visitors. Conservationists estimate that smugglers take some 300 infants out of Morocco each year for the growing European pet trade—crippling the population’s sustainability. As few as 6,000 of the endangered monkeys remain—with between 4,000 and 5,000 in Morocco.