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« on: July 23, 2004, 08:33:22 pm »

Going ape: how British diplomats pondered simian sex lives

Thu Jul 22, 3:09 PM ET  Add Offbeat - AFP to My Yahoo!

LONDON (AFP) - War might have been raging though Europe, but according to newly-released files, in 1944 British leader Winston Churchill had the time to ponder a seemingly less crucial issue -- the sex lives of apes.

AFP/DPA/File Photo

A memo from Churchill demanding action is among a batch of formerly secret files deposited in Britain's National Archives concerning the same subject, population numbers among Gibraltar's Barbary Ape population.

While much of the correspondence is light-hearted -- in 1967, two top officials exchanged humourous poems calling the apes' sexual orientation into question -- there was a serious purpose.

According to legend, if the apes disappear, Britain will lose control of Gibraltar, a tiny territory on the coast of southern Spain which it has controlled for almost 200 years.

Churchill was evidently worried at the declining ape population during World War II, firing off a memo to the colonies minister saying there should always be at least 24 of the animals.

"Action should be taken to bring them up to this number at once and maintain it thereafter," the missive read.

In 1967 the then-governor of Gibraltar and a civil servant in London debated the issue in racy verse sent via telegram.

"We're a little bit perturbed about the apes/After studying their sizes and their shapes," wrote Saville Garner, the top civil servant on colonial issues, in 1967.

Gender imbalance among the two separate packs of apes meant a predominantly female group might resort to becoming lesbians, while the other "may become a bunch of queers", he joked.

The reply from Sir Gerald Lathbury in Gibraltar was in a similar vein.

"Much as we admire/Your Churchillian desire/To alter/While pre-occupied with Malta/The simian balance at Gibraltar," he began, before insisting that the male apes -- some named after local dignitaries -- were capable of reproducing.

"And Hercules of Middle Hill/Though comparatively new/He knows a thing or two," London was reassured of one productive ape.


Once you muscle your way through the Gag reflex, you open up a new world of culinary choices.
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