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Toque Macaque
Macaca sinica
Barbary Macaque
Macaca sylvanus
  (Linnaeus, 1758)
Milne-edwards' Macaque
Macaca thibetana
  Owner:   C. Michael Hogan    

Adult male acting as a rear guard sentry for a troop of foraging Barbary Macaques in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Barbary Macaque
Macaca sylvanus

C. Michael Hogan PhD.
December 19, 2008

The Barbary Macaque is a monkey species with highly restricted distribution, chiefly in specialised montane cedar and oak forest habitat in northwest African regions. M. sylvanus is chiefly herbivorous and lives in troops with a complex social organisation, while utilising elaborate techniques of vocal and tactile communication. The species is threatened due to ongoing deforestation of its remaining limited habitat, and also due to overgrazing of the habitat understory. Inadequate conservation measures are in place within the principal M. sylvanus population centers of Morocco and Algeria.

M. Sylvanus is found in Morocco and Algeria at elevations between 1100 to 2200 metres, chiefly within the Atlas Mountains. There is a re-introduced population at Gibraltar in Spain, making this species the only wild primate extant in Europe.

Approximately three fourths of the North African population is in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. (Taub) Habitat within Morocco consists of high elevation cedar forests such as the Cèdre Gouraud Forest, cedar/holm-oak mixed forest and pure holm oak stands. In the High Atlas the Ourika valley is the sole location where a relict population survives. There are between five and eight small, disjunct forest pockets in the Rif which support small groups of M. sylvanus.

In Algeria, the species occurs in seven restricted and disjunctive populations in the Grande and Petite Kabylie ranges. Within the Guerrouch and Agfadou regions, one finds the majority of the Algerian populations. Another population is found near Chiffa south of Blida. National Park populations in Algeria include Pic des Singes and Djebel Babor. Algerian habitats consist of mixed cedar and holm oak forests, humid Portuguese and cork oak mixed forest and also in Mediterranean scrub covered gorges.

This primate attains a length of 75 cm and body mass as great as 14 kg, with a subtle sexual dimorphism of slightly smaller females. Hind limbs are somewhat shorter than forelimbs. This species exhibits a vestigial tail and fur ranging from grayish-brown to rust-gray, with lighter undersides. While a good climber, the Barbary Macaque is considered quadrupedal for its terrestrial locomotion.

The Barbary Macaque manifests a deep facial skeleton and a dark pink muzzle; its dental features reveal small incisors and molars with large crushing basins. The molar distal lophs have a distinct narrowing, which may relate to its diet of tough food substances; it has also been suggested (Mottura) that this feature is a retained plesiomorphic characteristic not inherited by other macaque species. The Barbary Macaque has pronounced cheek pouches are used for carrying food.

This diurnal primate lives in troops which contain both adult sexes, with troop population being 10 to 35 individuals. Promiscuous mating occurs, with copulation requiring a mere six to 15 seconds. Gestation takes 21 to 27 weeks, with a single offspring being produced at one time. Young males eventually disperse from the natal troop, but young females typically remain with their birth tribe. Juveniles reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4.5 years of age, and lifespan is characteristically 20 or 25 years.

Communication is conducted via a complex combination of vocal and tactile signals. The fear response is a grimace with clenched teeth exposed and lips retracted; this action is thought to evoke a reduction in aggression from the attacker (often of the same species). Threat signal is typically an open mouth stare with teeth covered. Congeniality is often displayed by repeated lip-smacking. A gamut of shrill cries and low acoustic frequency panting are used in communication within the troop.

Foraging in the forest understory and even scrub areas is the major food intake of the Barbary Macaque. The principally vegetarian diet consists of tubers, rhizomes, flowers, acorns, leaves and seeds. Caterpillars and other invertebrates are an element of food supply in the autumn. During the winter this primate consumes bark and evergreen leaves. I observed troops typically foraging terrestrially, and then moving toward tree heights when alarmed. Predators include jackals and foxes. The Barbary Macaque is the first non-human primate to be diagnosed with West Nile Virus. (Ølberg)

The origin of the genus Macaca is estimated at 5.5 million years before present, (Modolo) and M. sylvanus is the only surviving non-Asian species within the genus. Moroccan and Algerian populations reflect distinct haplotypes, whose ancestors diverged approximately 1.6 million years before present. (Modolo) There is a further sharp genetic division among Algerian populations, with clear correlation with geographic regimes; this observation demonstrates habitat fragmentation has occurred, which phenomenon is likely exacerbating the species survival.

Estimates of the total population of the species range from 12.000 to 21,000 individuals, with recent declines in clear evidence. Population densities range from 12 to 70 individuals per square kilometre (Wolfheim) Deforestation of oaks and cedar and encroachment by the expanding human population are the greatest threats to the Barbary Macaque. Habitat fragmentation is a severe additional threat to M. sylvanus, having already been clearly demonstrated in Algeria. Patterns of ongoing logging impede migration from remaining habitat parcels. Until somewhat recently a population of Barbary Macaques existed in Tunisia. The fossil record indicates the species once had a much larger range, with Pliocene distribution including present day Germany, Italy, Hungary, Spain and France. The Pleistocene distribution includes present day United Kingdom.(Hartwig)

Both Taub and Wolfheim agree that the outlook for the Barbary Macaque is not favourable, due to the excessive rates of deforestation and insufficient reforestation. My own review of the Moroccan habitat support these concerns, but I would add a more fundamental concern that the human population in Morocco is beyond carrying capacity, (Reuters Africa) given the limited areas for agricultural production, so that it appears inevitable than humans will sacrifice the remaining habitat for sustenance of the expanding human population in North Africa; in particular, goat herding in the Atlas Mountains is seeking out increasingly marginal forest understory and scrub habitat, leaving little promise of understory health in the habitat of M. sylvanus.


* David Milton Taub (1977) Geographic Distribution and Habitat Diversity of the Barbary Macaque: Macaca sylvanus L., Folia Primatologica, vol.27, no. 2
* Alberto Mottura and Sergio Gentili (2006) Cranio-Mandibular Biometrics and Skull Maturation of Macaca sylvanus L., 1758, Human Evolution, Springer Netherlands, vol. 21, nos. 3-4, pages 223-239 ISSN 0393-9375
* Rolf-Arne Ølberg, Ian K. Barker, Graham J. Crawshaw, Mads F. Bertelsen, Michael A. Drebot and Maya Andonova (2004) West Nile Virus Encephalitis in a Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus), Emerging Infectious Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, vol. 10, no. 4
* Jaclyn H. Wolfheim (1983) Primates of the World: Distribution, Abundance and Conservation,
Published by Routledge, 832 pages ISBN 3718601907
* Walter Carl Hartwig (2002) The Primate Fossil Record, Cambridge University Press, 530 pages
ISBN 0521663156
* Reuters Africa (2008) Morocco seeks 300,000 T soft wheat-ONICL, Fri 5 Dec 2008, 10:18 GMT, dateline Rabat, Morocco
* Lara Modolo, Walter Salzburger and Robert D. Martin (2005) Phylogeography of Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) and the origin of the Gibraltar colony, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

(Citation of this article: C. Michael Hogan (2008) Barbary Macaque: Macaca sylvanus, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. Nicklas Stromberg http://globaltwitcher.auderis.se/artspec_information.asp?thingid=31757)

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