Gibraltar - Natural History

Natural history of Gibraltar

The Rock of Gibraltar is a giant slab of jagged Jurassic limestone. It has dominated the Straits of Gibraltar for around 200 million years and of course over such a period has continually changed and evolved. The porous limestone ensures that the Rock always has a plentiful water supply. So when nearby Spain is often arid and brown the Rock will be lush and green.

At one time the rock was covered in natural woodland. Soldiers and others cleared this in search of firewood. Today, the upper reaches are essentially green again covered with shrubs and trees such as nettle trees, carob, eucalyptus and wild olives. There are also a wide variety of wild flowers including Gibraltar's own Candytuft and Chickweed.

In the past red deer, wolves and wild boar would have made their homes on the Rock. They may have disappeared but the teeming bird life goes on with over 200 species having been recorded. Many of these are migratory birds whose habits have been unchanged by time.

The Barbary Apes

Nobody knows how the famous tailless Macaques came to be on the Rock. They certainly have brothers and sisters across the Strait on Mons Abyla. However, Mr F E Zeuner believes they are true ancient Europeans. In the scientific journal Oryx he said that ten million years ago Macaques roamed across France, Holland and Germany. He believes the onset of the iceage may have driven them south with the last traces of them found nestling on Gibraltar's rock.

Legend says that when the apes leave the Rock so too will the British. During World War II, when Sir Winston Churchill heard there were only seven apes left on Gibraltar, he hurriedly had another seven brought in from North Africa.

There currently are six troops of Macaques and they can be viewed at the Apes' Den at the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. The best way to reach it is either by the Cable Car or on one of the Rock Tours.

The Cable Car is situated at Grand Parade and operates between 0930 and 1945.

Rock Tours

Rock Tours are operated by various local tour operators and also by the Gibraltar Taxi Association.

For a full listing of operators and further information contact the Gibraltar Tourist Board Tel: +350 20045000. Email: information@tourism.gov.gi

Dolphins & Whales

There are numerous dolphin-watching trips on offer and it is not unusual to be able to see these fascinating creatures up close. For more information, see our Gibraltar dolphin watching page.

For information on nearby whale watching, including the opportunity to book a whale watching trip, see our Tarifa whale watching page.

Bird Watching

As the Strait of Gibraltar are the narrowest crossing point for birds migrating to and from Europe to Africa the Rock offers unrivalled bird watching opportunities. Gibraltar also has its permanent residents such as the Barbary Partridge, which originally was only to be found in North Africa.

Griffon Vultures
Several of the few colonies in Southern Europe of these birds are found in the nearby Campo de Gibraltar area of Spain. Storks can also be seen and these too have their nests just across the border with a large number of them nesting on electricity pylons at Estacion de San Roque railway container yard.

The Botanic Gardens

The beautiful Alameda Gardens were first opened in 1816. Around the gardens are a number of commemorative busts and cannons dating from the 19th century. Chief attraction are the splendid plants and trees some of which are native to the Rock whilst others have been imported. The Gardens are open from 0800 to dusk daily. Admission is free.

For more information on the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens, talks, events and tours of the gardens contact: Tel: +350 20072639 - Email; alameda@wildlife.gib.gi

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