Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Monkey Madness in Marrakesh

Born Free's Senior Wildlife Consultant, Ian Redmond OBE, reports on his recent visit to Marrakesh. 

On a recent visit to Morocco, I was drawn, along with throngs of tourists, to the Medina of Marrakesh.  It is an amazing place to visit, with hundreds of tiny shops and stalls full of fascinating crafts and delicious food, surrounded by stunningly beautiful mosques and monuments.  Its cultural importance is considered to be of ‘outstanding universal value’, and so it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   At the centre of the Medina lies the main square, the Place Jamaâ El Fna, which has been a commercial and cultural melting pot for centuries.

Among the crowded stalls, all kinds of acrobats, magicians and musicians vie for an audience.   Unfortunately, as I was disturbed to see, it has also become a centre for profitable animal abuse.   Monkeys and snakes are brought into the square to be used as photo-props, and well organised gangs accost passers-by for money if they take their own photo, or thrust an animal onto the shoulders of anyone they think can be persuaded to part with money for a photograph – especially parents of curious children.  

From a restaurant terrace overlooking the square, I watched the way they operate, and filmed some of the casual acts of cruelty perpetrated for ‘cute’ holiday snaps – monkeys being dragged by the neck-chain, slapped and swung around under a hot sun all day and long into the night.   I saw one unwilling tourist scratched, handlers clean themselves with a rag when soiled by their charges then go straight back to thrusting monkeys onto children and prams – a clear public health risk.   

I’m not the only one to be shocked by this. Over the years many tourists have written to the Born Free Foundation – here are a few of the tourist reports we have received:

“One man dragged a monkey along on his back, ignoring his cries of pain…”.
“All the monkeys I saw were holding the chains away from their throats as if they were too tight...”.
“One evening one of the men punched a monkey in the face because it was misbehaving, then he opened the box and threw the monkey inside…”.  
“When a monkey fell from being yanked he was kicked to make it get up…”.  
“The men make the monkeys fight for photo opportunities…”.  
“I tried to report the abuse of the macaques at the local police station but they only laughed at me.”

We recently wrote to the Moroccan authorities regarding these macaques but have not received a response.

The monkeys are Barbary macaques, an endangered species protected by law and found only in the Atlas Mountain forests of Morocco and Algeria (and a small introduced population on the Rock of Gibraltar).  The capture of infants in the Atlas Mountains is one of the main reasons for their population decline, and the use of macaques in tourist hotspots acts like a shop-front for the illegal pet trade into Europe.

At the recent CITES Conference in Johannesburg in September, Morocco and the EU successfully proposed the up-listing of the Barbary Macaque to Appendix I to help tackle this cruel trade, and Born Free was among the organisations strongly supporting the proposal, along with the Species Survival Network. This positive result must now be supported by improved law enforcement wherever touts are using monkeys in tourist hotspots. Two local NGOs are campaigning to end the use of macaques as photo-props. They, along with the Moroccan authorities and international experts in primatology, have developed a National Conservation Action Plan for the Barbary Macaque and new legislation is now being enforced, leading to some macaques being confiscated from photo-touts around Morocco. But it seems that in the Medina of Marrakesh, there is a view that monkeys and snakes are part of the cultural mix that draws the tourists.

Not just tourists though - in November 2016, Morocco will host the UN Climate Talks (aka UNFCCC CoP22). Thousands of delegates from all over the world will take part, and my fear is that they will take time out from the negotiations to look around the beautiful ancient city centre, only to be accosted by touts urging them to have a ‘monkey selfie’.   Many of these images will be posted on social media, acting as an unwitting advertisement for primate pets – the very trade Morocco and the EU is trying to close down by listing the species on CITES Appendix I.

It is up to us, the visitors, to complain to the tourist police in Marrakesh, and potential visitors to write to the nearest Moroccan Embassy or Tourist Board pointing out that animal abuse has no place in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

In the UK, the following contact details may be useful:

Mr Amine Boughaleb
Director for UK and Ireland 
Moroccan National Tourist Board
205 Regent Street
T: 020 7437 0073

Her Excellency HH Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui 
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco 
49 Queens Gate Gardens
T: 0207 581 5001-4 

The contact details for UNESCO:

Mr Timothy Curtis
Secretary of the Intangible Heritage Section
World Heritage Centre
7, Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris CEDEX 07

The Born Free Foundation will continue to raise our concerns directly with the Moroccan authorities, the National Tourist Board of Morocco and ABTA, The British Travel Association.

If you would like to join the Born Free Activate Campaign on this issue, click here

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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