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THE monkeys of Gibraltar are facing a massive cull after they went ape at a hotel.

Two of the famous primates have been put down and 23 more are facing execution after a breakaway group vandalised hotel rooms and ran amok on a beach.

The animals have also been caught rifling through rubbish in the town centre of the British colony - sparking fears they may pose a human health risk.

Vets have been authorised to track down the remaining tearaways and give them a knockout injection before putting them to sleep with a second needle.

The move has enraged animal welfare groups who yesterday said they were considering calling on tourists to boycott the region.

Francis Cantos, spokesman for the Government, insisted: "This is being done as a last resort. The apes we are targeting are part of a breakaway group going into town and making a nuisance of themselves as well as posing health hazards.

"They've been spotted going through rubbish and vandalising property as well as stealing from people.

"They ran riot recently at the beach at Catalan Bay. Two apes have so far been given a lethal injection. It's being done humanely and in the presence of a vet.

"Our hope is the breakaway animals will realise what's going on and return to the pack so the culling can stop."

The free-roaming Barbary Macaque monkeys, referred to as Barbary apes because of its stubby tail, attract hundreds of tourists every day to the areas around Apes Den and Siege Tunnels at the Rock.

The breakaway group is part of a colony of more than 200 which are a national symbol in Gibraltar.

The cull has the backing of many locals and staff at Gibraltar's Caleta Hotel, where guests rooms were vandalised recently by apes looking for food. Franco Ostuni of the Caleta Hotel said: "We're all animal lovers and culling is never popular.

"I hope it's a short-term fix which concentrates minds to the fact the apes are becoming an increasing problem."

But the cull has angered animal welfare organisations who claim they were not consulted over the plans.

Helen Thirlway, of the International Primate Protection League in the UK, said: "It's clear the government of Gibraltar is still not managing the population in a responsible manner, despite the fact they undoubtedly boost the nation's economy.

"This needless slaughter has to stop. We are considering calling on tourists to boycott Gibraltar in protest."

British soldiers are thought to have introduced the apes, natives of North Africa, into Gibraltar in the mid eighteenth century to use for shooting practice.

They have a place in Gibraltar's folklore with legend saying the colony would cease to be British if they no longer lived there.

The myth was taken seriously enough by Winston Churchill for him to order the importation of extra apes to Gibraltar during World War Two.

Gibraltar's government started to control the ape population six years ago using contraceptive drugs, but have had difficulty catching the wild animals.

They also relocated 20 apes once to Germany. Chief Minister Peter Caruana joked afterwards: "It cost us about pounds 25,000. It would have been cheaper if we had flown them by British Airways, strapped into first-class seats."

Gibraltar has the last wild population of Barbary Macaques in Europe.

200 Number of Barbary Macaques in the colony at Gibraltar

pounds 25,000 Cost of transporting 20 of the monkeys to Germany


TROUBLE Apes of Gibraltar are causing havoc; NUISANCE A tourist mobbed by monkeys
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 17, 2008
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