Home Primates ABC Barbary macaque


Barbary macaques have thick, brown-yellow fur, which protects them against rain and cold. Males and females look alike, although males are often slightly larger. A funny fact is that barbary macaques don’t have a visible tail. They only have a small stump that is hidden by their fur. Barbary macaques have cheek pouches. They use them to save food to eat later at a quiet moment. Their cheek pouches can hold as much food as their stomachs!


In the wild, barbary macaques live in the pine forests of the Atlas and Rif Mountains, which lie on the border between Morocco and Algeria. This area can be boiling hot in summer, but also freezing cold in winter. Don’t be surprised if you see a barbary macaque in the snow!


Barbary macaques live in large, social groups. On average a group consists of about 25 animals. Within the group there is a strict hierarchy. Each animal knows its place within the group, ensuring structure and peace. Some animals are high in rank, others lower. The babies of the mothers with a high status are lucky. The babies ‘inherit’ that high status. The males must decide amongst themselves who’s boss.


Barbary macaques use sounds and facial expressions to communicate with each other. Are they angry or threatening each other? They might hit the ground, stare at each other or show their teeth. You might also see barbary macaques smacking their lips. That’s how they show others that they’re submissive. What they’re saying is: ‘You’re the boss’. Barbary macaques also groom each other a lot. Not because they actually have fleas, but to maintain social connections. They also groom each other when they need something from the other one, as a means of exchange. It’s also a nice, relaxing activity for barbary macaques, plus it has hygienic function.


Barbary macaques have a mating season and a birthing season. The babies are born with very thin, dark fur. It takes a few months for their fur to turn light brown. Barbary macaque babies have wrinkly faces with big ears, and a tiny tail that looks like a little stump. This stump soon disappears under their fur. During the first few weeks the mothers carry their babies around on their stomachs, then the babies move to their mother’s back. Barbary macaque infants breastfeed until they’re one year old. The mothers have plenty of support raising their children: other female group members baby-sit the little ones from time to time.

In a group of barbary macaques, the babies get a lot of attention. All of the group members want to hold or carry the little ones! That’s because barbary macaques have special rules: when carrying a baby, you’re sometimes allowed to do things that otherwise aren’t allowed, such as sitting close to dominant group members. When the males are three or four, they leave the group in which they were born and join a new group. In general, females stay in their natal group for their whole life. They’re sexually mature from the age of four and can then give birth to their own babies.

Situation in the wild

Barbary macaques used to live in large areas in North Africa and parts of Europe. Unfortunately, large parts of their habitat have disappeared over the years, for example because of logging. There is also an illegal trade in barbary macaques. That’s why nowadays barbary macaques can only be found in small forests or bush areas in the mountains areas of Morocco and Algeria.

In Apenheul

In the barbary macaque enclosure at Apenheul we try to give an impression of the Atlas Mountains. That means this area looks a lot like their original habitat in the wild. The barbary macaques don’t have an indoor area here. They spend 365 days a year out of doors, day and night. Their thick (winter)coat protects them perfectly against rain and cold, even in the Dutch winter! There is also a small pond in the area. Especially the young animals love to play in it on warm days, which is quite special considering that primates usually don’t like water.

Breeding programme 

Apenheul is a partner in the European breeding programme (EEP) for barbary macaques. By working together with other international zoos we can maintain the genetically healthy groups of barbary macaques in zoos.

Fun facts

  • Barbary macaques have seat bones and they have calluses on their bottoms. It’s not a coincidence that barbary macaques sleep while sitting upright.
  • Barbary macaques are the only primates that live in Africa north of the Sahara.