Alfred Holmes

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Alfred Holmes
Alfred Holmes.jpg
Alfred Holmes on duty at the Upper Rock (Gibraltar)
Nickname(s) "El de los monos"
Born (1931-02-01)1 February 1931
Died 1 January 1994(1994-01-01) (aged 62)
Old St. Bernard's Hospital, Gibraltar
Buried North Front Cemetery, Gibraltar (36°08′56″N 5°20′41″W / 36.148794°N 5.344742°W / 36.148794; -5.344742Coordinates: 36°08′56″N 5°20′41″W / 36.148794°N 5.344742°W / 36.148794; -5.344742)
Allegiance Gibraltar
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1954 - 1986
Rank Sergeant
Unit Gibraltar Regiment
Awards British Empire Medal

Sgt. Alfred Holmes BEM (1 February 1931 – 1 January 1994) was a Gibraltarian sergeant of the Gibraltar Regiment (now the Royal Gibraltar Regiment). He was a well remembered Officer-in-Charge of the Apes who held this position, caring for the Gibraltar Barbary macaques, for over 38 years.[1][2] He described the macaques as "Gibraltar's greatest treasure".

Early life[edit]

Holmes was a second generation Gibraltarian,[3] born in Gibraltar to Gibraltarian parents Arthur Frederick Holmes and Mercedes Carrara. His father had been previously married and fathered five children from that relationship. Following the death of his wife, he married Mercedes who was later to be Alfred's mother. Alfred was to be the only child out of that relationship as his mother died when he was just three years old. His father later remarried one final time, fathering a further five children, giving Alfred a total of ten half siblings.

In 1954 he married Spanish domestic worker Leonor Corbacho Velasco, a young lady from Valverde del Fresno (Cáceres). They met in La Línea de la Concepción, the Spanish municipality on the other side of the Gibraltar–Spain border, where she resided at the time. They went on to have two children, Maria de las Mercedes in 1955 and Edward Maximo in 1962.


Sgt. Alfred Holmes alongside two Gibraltar Barbary macaques, looking down on the city of Gibraltar.

In the 1950s, Holmes enlisted in the Gibraltar Regiment where he later ascended to the rank of sergeant. He was appointed as a non-commissioned officer of Officer-in-Charge of the Apes.

From 1913 to 1991 the Gibraltar Barbary macaques have been the responsibity of the British Army, which appointed a non-commissioned officer from the Gibraltar Regiment as Officer-in-Charge of the Apes. During his service, Sgt. Holmes fed, nursed, and guarded the monkeys,[2] generally working to maintain their well-being.[4][5][6] He knew all of the macaques by the names he himself had given them. They were mostly named after Governors, brigadiers and high-ranking officers as well as his children.[7] Sgt. Holmes could communicate with the animals by means of eye signals and barely perceptible head movements which he would use to stop them from taking food offered to them by tourists.[2] He would even take young orphaned monkeys to his wife to help rear at home. He would also take sick or injured monkeys to the Royal Naval Hospital where they would receive the exact medical treatment as an enlisted soldier.[2][8] For his work with the macaques, he was best known locally by the nickname of "El de los monos" (Spanish: He of the monkeys).

Sgt. Holmes' time in the job made him an authority on this group of Barbary macaques, with his knowledge being sought by various scientific studies on the monkeys from around the globe.[1][4][7][9] He described the macaques as "Gibraltar's greatest treasure".[8]


In the early 1990s, Holmes was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, later traveling to London to undergo major abdominal surgery. The cancer eventually resulted in his death on 1 January 1994 at Old St. Bernard's Hospital in Gibraltar. His body now rests in a family grave together with his father, grandfather and various half siblings at North Front Cemetery, Gibraltar.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fa, John E; Donald G, Lindburg (1996-05-30). Evolution and ecology of macaque societies. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 615. ISBN 0-521-41680-9. This chapter is dedicated to the late Sgt Alfred Holmes, in memory of his more than 38 years' tireless caring for the Gibraltar macaques. Without his attention to individual monkeys between 1954 and 1992 our record of a 250 year tradition would have been much poorer. 
  2. ^ a b c d Shepherd, Leslie (1988-06-01). "Treasured Barbary apes live pampered lives on Gibraltar". The Item. Sumter, South Carolina. Retrieved 2010-01-23. For 25 years, Sgt. Alfred Holmes fed, nursed and guarded the famous Barbary apes that scramble among the upper crevices of the Rock of Gibraltar. 
  3. ^ Westways, Volume 77. Automobile Club of Southern California. 1985. Retrieved 2010-01-23. Today Sgt. Alfred Holmes, a second generation Gibraltarian, is responsible for protecting the Rock's most important tourist attraction... 
  4. ^ a b Burton, Frances D (1972). "The Integration of Biology and Behavior in the Socialization of Macaca sylvana of Gibraltar" (PDF). Primate Socialization. New York: Random House. I would like to extend many thanks to Sergeant Alfred Holmes of the Gibraltar Regiment, Officer-in-Charge of monkeys, for tutoring me in the way of life of the monkeys and for generally assisting me with them. His extensive knowledge and comprehension of them was invaluable. 
  5. ^ La Fay, Howard (July 1966). "Gibraltar—Rock of Contention". National Geographic Magazine. 130 (1): 118. 
  6. ^ Burton & Sawchuk, Frances D & Lawrence A (September 1974). "Demography of Macaca sylvanus of Gibraltar". University of Toronto. 
  7. ^ a b "The Apes: Our New Symbols of Shame". VOX. 2007-08-03. Archived from the original on 8 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-28. An army sergeant was responsible for their welfare. The sergeant, a local man by the name of Holmes, had a great love for the apes and a similar affection seemed reciprocated. He would personally feed them in the morning which, at the same time, gave him the opportunity to inspect for injuries. The apes when injured were taken to the RN hospital and received the same treatment as would an enlisted service man. He knew them all by the names he himself had given them. They were all named after Governors, brigadiers and high-ranking officers. When Holmes retired he was replaced by Asquez and then Zammut, both of whom followed the same procedure Holmes had kept in terms of discipline caring for them. 
  8. ^ a b Macerlean, Fergal (27 November 2012). "'They've lost their fear of humans': Gibraltar to get rid of HALF its 300-strong monkey colony". Daily Mail. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  9. ^ MacRoberts, M. H.; MacRoberts, B. R. (1966). "The annual reproductive cycle of the barbary ape (Macaca sylvana) in Gibraltar". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 25 (3): 299–304. PMID 5971504. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330250309.