Morocco fights to save its iconic monkey

Last October, the Barbary macaque was listed as a species threatened with extinction on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  

HAMZA MEKOUAR –

If nothing is done, this species will disappear within 10 years,” warns a poster on Ahmed Harrad’s ageing 4×4 showing Morocco’s famed Barbary macaque monkey.
Harrad spends his time crisscrossing northern Morocco to try to convince locals to protect the endangered monkey.
The only species of macaque outside Asia, which lives on leaves and fruits and can weigh up to 20 kilogrammes (45 pounds), was once found throughout North Africa and parts of Europe.
But having disappeared from Libya and Tunisia, it is now restricted to mountainous regions of Algeria and Morocco’s northern Rif region. Another semi-wild population of about 200 individuals in Gibraltar are the only free-ranging monkeys in Europe.
Today, the only native primate north of the Sahara, apart from humans, is in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Conservationists blame illegal poaching, tourists who feed the monkeys and overexploitation of the cedar and oak forests that form the species’ natural habitat.
In response, Morocco has launched a campaign to save the species.
“We are working on two areas — monitoring and making a census of the species in the Rif and raising awareness among locals so that they actively help rescue it,” Harrad said.
As head of a local association, Barbary Macaque Awareness & Conservation (BMAC), Harrad has become a tireless advocate for the animal.
He says it is often sold to buyers in Europe for between $110 and $330 (100 and 300 euros) despite laws forbidding the trade.
“A lot of foreigners buy monkeys as pets,” he said.
Seen as quiet and cute when it is young, the adult monkey can become a burden, Harrad said.
“It breaks things, bites, fights with children and climbs the curtains,” prompting many owners to abandon their pets, he said.

MACAQUE REMAINS ‘IN ASHES OF POMPEII’
But that hasn’t stopped the tailless monkeys, with their thick grey-and-ginger fur, being highly sought-after by passing travellers throughout the ages.
According to National Geographic, skeletal remains of macaques have been discovered “in the ashes of Pompeii, deep within an ancient Egyptian catacomb, and buried beneath an Irish hilltop where the Bronze Age kings of Ulster once held court”.
Zouhair Ahmaouch, an official at Morocco’s High Commission for Water, Forests and Combating Desertification, said the new conservation plan focused on tackling poaching.
Last October, the Barbary macaque was listed as a species threatened with extinction on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
That makes buying and selling the monkeys illegal except under exceptional circumstances.
Ahmaouch welcomed the move.
“It will allow Morocco and other countries to unify their efforts to fight against the illegal trade in Barbary macaques,” he said. Morocco has a “global responsibility to conserve this heritage”. — AFP

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