Uproar over plan to cull apes

More primate experts around the world are adding their condemnation to the government's shock decision to cull a troop of around 25 macaques around the Catalan Bay area, despite repeated requests for a more humane method of population control going back over more than ten years.

The Government announced the plan during Parliament last week in response to an opposition question by GSLP/Liberal spokesman on the environment, Fabian Picardo.

The management of the population of macaques is officially the responsibility of the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS) and yet this organisation was not consulted about the decision and say they are still waiting to discuss the proposal with the Minister for the Environment.

The International Primate Protection League (IPPL) in the UK has been investigating the situation to find out if the cull will definitely go ahead.

Dr John Cortes, the General Secretary of GONHS told them: ?our policy is that culling can be a population management solution but only in extreme cases when there is no other more suitable option. We are pending discussions with the government in Gibraltar and so we are not sure at this time whether it is necessary in this case. We would only ever recommend a cull after very careful assessment of the situation from a veterinary and a genetic point of view?.

However, Albert Bruzon, the Principal Secretary of the Department for the Environment confirmed over the phone to the Head of IPPL UK that the licence for the cull has already been issued, that the killing of the monkeys is due to be carried out by contractors and that it will start ?as soon as possible.?

Helen Thirlway, Head of IPPL in the UK, said: ?It is clear that the government of Gibraltar is still not managing their population of Macaques in a responsible manner, despite the fact that they undoubtedly boost the nation?s economy as arguably their most popular tourist attraction. They have appointed a specialist organisation to be responsible for the day-to-day management of the Macaques, and who have detailed knowledge of each group, and yet they have not even consulted them before deciding on this course of action.?

This is not the first controversial cull of Gibraltar?s well-loved free-roaming Barbary Macaques; back in 2003, a top primatologist, Dr Robert Martin, pulled out of his field research and boycotted a conference he had helped to organise in protest at the culling of half of his study group.

Of this recent turn of events, Dr Martin says: "I am saddened, but not surpised, to learn that there is still no effective management in place and that those in charge of the macaques (presumably including GONHS) are now resorting to culling yet again. I wish you every success with your campaign against the culling. It is quite disgraceful that, despite receiving sound advice in 1997, the people in charge of the macaques have taken no effective action to manage the population in a way that would benefit all concerned."

GONHS have confirmed that, together with the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic, they have started an ongoing programme of population control using contraceptive implants but that it is a difficult and complex process. IPPL is considering calling on UK citizens to boycott Gibraltar?s tourist industry until the government pledge to stop using culling as a method of population control and instead invest in alternative methods.

Helen Thirlway stated: ?There have been many advances and pilot studies in recent years on different methods of controlling free-roaming monkeys. We are more than happy to work with the government of Gibraltar and with GONHS to help them develop more efficient, alternative solutions but this needless slaughter has to stop.?