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Barbary macaques exploited as photo-props in Marrakesh’s punishment square

as photo-props in Marrakesh’s
punishMent square
In the ancient Moroccan city of Marrakesh, tourists are unwittingly helping
the trade of Barbary macaques by having their photographs taken with them.
Vincent Nijman, Daniel Bergin and Els van Lavieren report for SWARA.
Marrakesh is a medieval metropolis retaining much of its
historic character. With Rabat as Morocco’s capital, Fez
as its spiritual centre and Casablanca attracting the more
affluent visitors, in the years since independence, Marrakesh has
carved out a role as the Nation’s artistic place-to-be. In the 1960s
and 1970s the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin joined the
roving hippies who frequented the city, and Yves St Laurent found a
home away from home in the Jardin Majorelle. Always cosmopolitan,
Marrakesh truly opened its doors to the world in the 1990s when
budget airlines made available to the masses what before was restricted
to the happy few. In 2014 the city received over a million tourists.
To the first-time visitor Marrakesh is perhaps best described as
an alleyway labyrinth designed by a town planner without a sense of
direction, that is packed to the rim with people, shops and goods. The
centre of town has always been the Djemaa el-Fna (‘Assembly of the
Dead’: here law breakers faced their ultimate punishment in public)
and to this day this square is packed with salesmen, herbalists, food
stalls, entertainers, and anyone willing to make or spend some money.
Radiating out of the Djemaa el-Fna are a series of small alleyways and
covered markets called souqs. At the Rahba Qedima potion sellers have
plant-, animal- or mineral-based cures for
every ailment, from broken fingers to broken
hearts, as well as tonics that improves one’s
general health. Wool skeins are hung out to dry
in the Souk Sebbaghine (‘Dyer’s souq’), and for
some peace and quiet in between the Adhan
(call for prayer) one has to visit the gardens of
the Koutoubia Mosque to the southeast of the
Djemaa el-Fna.
Besides its historic and hippy-ish appeal,
Marrakesh also has the reputation of being
Vincent Nijman is trained
as a biologist and currently
holds a professorial chair in
anthropology at Oxford Brookes
University. He has worked on a
wide range of primates, from
slow lorises and howler monkeys
to macaques and orang-utans,
but a significant chunk of his
time is devoted to researching
wildlife trade.
Daniel Bergin qualified as a
safari guide before obtaining
an MSc in Primate Conservation.
He has researched wildlife trade
in North Africa and is currently
a consultant for TRAFFIC,
investigating cross-border trade
of terrestrial animals in Borneo.
Els van Lavieren has an MSc
in Primate Conservation and
is one of the founders and
the Executive Director of the
Moroccan Primate Conservation
foundation (MPC). She has been
working on Barbary macaque
conservation in Morocco for
more than 10 years, specializing
in the illegal trade and active in
the protection of the species'
most important habitat in
Email: els@mpcfoundation
LEFT PAGE: Barbary
macaques, dressed
up and ready to
have their photo
to be taken, in the
town of Meknes.
TOP: Barbary
macaques used as
photo-props on the
Djemaa el-Fna in
BELOW: Barbary
macaque in
one of North Africa’s largest centres of
wildlife trade, with numerous species,
protected or not, offered openly for
sale1. In the early 2000s researchers
working on wild populations of
spur-thighed tortoises Testudo
graeca recorded almost 700 of these
globally threatened animals for sale
in Marrakesh2. More recent report
suggests that this trade continues, and
boxes full of often-small tortoises are
displayed in open plastic containers in
front of the shops3. Leopard Panthera
pardus skins are regularly observed
on sale in Marrakesh4 even though the
species is all but extinct in Morocco.
Based on a trip to the cities of Fez and
Marrakesh in 2011, Martin and Perry5
gave a vivid account in SWARA how
tourists underwrite Morocco’s illegal
trade in wildlife artefacts, including items made out of
elephant ivory. They also mention the presence of Barbary
macaques Macaca sylvanus being displayed by entertainers
on the Djemaa el-Fna. Tourists may want to take a
photograph of the monkeys and by paying for this, tourists
keep the entertainers in business. Primates used as photo-
props brings back memories to the beach chimpanzees Pan
troglodytes in Spain that were popular in the 1970s and
1980s and that were subsequently banned, but to this day
the primate photo-prop trade continues in Asia (e.g. slender
1Bergin, D. & Nijman, V. (2014) Open, unregulated trade in wildlife in Morocco's markets. TRAFFIC Bulletin 26: 65-70.
2Znari, M., Germano, D.J. & Macé, J.C. (2005). Growth and population structure of the Moorish tortoise (Testudo graeca graeca) in westcentral
Morocco: possible effects of over-collecting for the tourist trade. Journal of Arid Environments 62: 55-74.
3Bergin, D., Gray, M. & Nijman, V. (2015). Marrakesh: a centre for tortoise trade. Oryx 49: 205.
4Shipp, A. (2002) Wildlife for sale in Marrakech, Morocco. Traffic Bulletin 19: 65.
5Martin, E. & Perry-Martin, C. (2012). Tourists underwrite Morocco’s illegal trade in wildlife artefacts. Swara (Jul-Sep): 16-29.
Marrakesh also has the
reputation of being one
of north africa’s largest
centres of wildlife trade, with
nuMerous species, protected or
not, offered openly for sale.
Barbary macaques
and their transport
cages in Marrakesh.
6Kanagavel, A., Sinclair, C., Sekar, R., Raghavan, R. (2013) Moolah, misfortune or spinsterhood? the plight of slender loris Loris lydekkerianus in
southern India. Journal Threatened Taxa 5: 3585–3588.
7Osterberg, P. & Nekaris, K.A.I. (2015) The use of animals as photo props to attract tourists in Thailand: a case study of the slow loris Nycticebus spp.
TRAFFIC Bulletin 27: 13-18.
8Yang-Martinez, S. (2011). An investigation of tarsier tourism in Bohol, Philippines: assessments of 11 tarsier exhibits, a worry for tarsier welfare and
conservation. MSc thesis. Oxford Brookes University, Oxford.
9El Alami, A., van Lavieren, E., Aboufatima, R. & Chait, A. (2013). A survey of the Endangered Barbary macaque Macaca sylvanus in the Central High
Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Oryx 47: 451-456.
10Van Lavieren, E. (2008). The illegal trade in Barbary macaques from Morocco. TRAFFIC Bulletin 21:81-88.
lorises Loris lydekkerianus in India6,
lar gibbons Hylobates lar and slow
lorises Nycticebus ssp in Thailand7, and
Philippine tarsiers Carlito syrichta in
the southern Philippines8). In Africa
this practise seems to be confined to
Morocco and the Barbary macaque.
The Barbary macaque is the only
African member of a widespread Asian
genus. The species is confined to parts
of Morocco and Algeria (and a small
introduced population in Gibraltar on
mainland Europe), but in the past it
occurred throughout northern Africa
and parts of Europe. Its population is
highly fragmented, and with the most
recent population estimates from Algeria of around 5,500
individuals, dating back to the 1970s, the largest stronghold
of the species is in Morocco. Estimates from Morocco are
more recent and it is thought that a population of around
6,000 individuals remains9.
Trade is recognized as one of the major threats to the
species, with again the most recent data originating mainly
from Morocco10. Trade in Barbary macaques is to fulfil the
demand for pets and the entertainment industry (tourism)
and, as such, is almost exclusively focused on the younger
individuals. Indeed, opportunistic observations from wild
populations suggest that it is this age group that is most
often extracted from the wild. The trade in Moroccan
Barbary macaques is to supply domestic demand whereas
the international trade is largely directed towards Europe;
the majority ends up in Spain, France and the Netherlands,
Local and
tourists take
the opportunity
to have their
photo taken
with the globally
threatened Barbary
lawbreakers faced their punishment
in public, and that this same place is
now where the law is broken on a daily
basis. Shutting down these wildlife
markets in cities such as Marrakesh and
acting upon those that openly tout the
macaques and prosecuting traders to
the full extent of the law may be difficult
to achieve but is essential in improving
the conservation prospects of Barbary
macaques. Central in this is a focus
on taking appropriate enforcement
actions in line with Morocco’s domestic
legislation as well as respecting the
rules and intentions of international
conventions to which Morocco is
The Barbary macaque has been
protected under a general national
hunting law. In 2015 however, a
new law (Loi 29-05 Relative à la
Protection des Espèces de Faune
et de Flore Sauvages) will be
implemented that will regulate
the trade in wild animals and plant
species. The High Commissary
of Water and Forests plans to
announce a 6 months grace period
in which the public will have the
chance to end their current activities
of using and selling wildlife
without being prosecuted. The
government has until now turned
a blind eye to the illegal activities
connected to wildlife use, but with
the implementation of the new law,
they want to initiate enforcement.
It is not clear yet when the new law
will be announced officially. The
decree contains a list of species of
wild fauna and flora involved in the
provision of this Act and the terms
of issue of permits, certificates and
authorizations for the import, export,
re-export, possession, collection,
introduction and reintroduction
into the wild of these species. The
fines when the law is violated are
directly linked to their listing on the
Convention on International Trade in
coinciding with the Moroccan diaspora.
This trade is illegal (see Box on
Over the last decade, the use of
Barbary macaques for photo-props
in Marrakesh has increased from one
group of vendors using one or two
macaques to four groups of vendors
displaying up to nine macaques
openly at any given time. As of 2013
some 35 Barbary macaques are kept
on and around the Djemaa el-Fna
for the photo-prop and pet trade. In
2014 another group of photo-prop
vendors have set up shop in the town
of Meknes, 400 km northeast of
Marrakesh. In addition, in recent years
the link between macaques being used
as photo-props and them being sold
as pets has become more clear. Given
that the species is protected and there
are no provisions in Moroccan law to
use macaques for display purposes, the
activities on the square are illegal. The
majority of visitors to the Djemaa el-Fna
square are Moroccan, and indeed they
are the ones that have their photo taken
with macaques most frequently, next to
visitors from Western Europe. The price
one has to pay for having one’s picture
taken differs widely (and depends on
one’s bargaining skills) but typically up
to 100 Dirham($10) exchanges hands.
The places where Barbary macaques
are displayed for the photo-prop trade
are known to be centres of wildlife
trade. It is ironic that Djemaa el-
Fna in the past was the place where
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora (CITES): the fines for CITES
Appendix I species are higher than
those for CITES Appendix II species
(i.e. 3,000-10,000 euro vs 2,000-
5,000 euro).
The Barbary macaque is included
on Appendix II of the CITES, strictly
regulating international trade.
Morocco ratified CITES in 1978.
Commercial trade of wild-caught
individuals is permitted if and
when the CITES authorities in the
range countries can establish so-
called Non-detriment Findings
that sets clear boundaries on the
number of individuals that can be
taken. For Barbary macaques this
is largely irrelevant given that the
species is protected in all of its three
range countries (Morocco, Algeria,
Gibraltar) and as such no domestic
nor international trade should take
place. Given the higher fines for
Appendix I listed species compared
to Appendix II listed species, several
national and international NGOs
have been arguing for proposals
to be submitted to the CITES
Conference of Parties to
allow Barbary macaques
to be transferred to
Appendix I.
... have noted the presence of a domestic trade in Barbary macaques in Morocco (van Lavieren 2008;Nijman et al. 2015;Waters et al. 2016) and Algeria (Sabrina 2008) but no assessment of the online trade has been conducted in either country. ...
Full-text available
With the rise in popularity and accessibility of the internet, a growing number of people are selling goods online. Classified advertisement websites such as eBay, Gumtree and Craigslist allow users to sell goods or services directly to consumers, bypassing the need for an intermediary. The convenience, anonymity and widespread reach of these websites has led to an increase in legal and illegal wildlife being traded online (IFAW 2014; Lavorgna 2014, 2015). Sellers advertise illegal wildlife openly as there is little need to resort to darkweb sites (Harrison et al. 2016). Recent reports indicate that the trade of prohibited animals online is flourishing, and is a cause of conservation concern for a broad range of species (IFAW 2014; Hinsley et al. 2016; Morgan and Chng 2017). The Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) is considered Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and was upgraded to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I in January 2017, with offtake for the illegal pet trade noted as one of the significant factors contributing to their decline in the wild (Anon 2016). Once present throughout North Africa, the range of this species is now limited to Algeria, Morocco, and a small, intro- duced population in Gibraltar (Taub 1984). Legislation in both Morocco and Algeria prohibits the trade in Barbary macaques, with potential fines of up to USD10,000 per animal in Morocco and USD1,000 in Algeria. There is evidence that the species has been traded since at least the early Iron Age (Massetti and Bruner 2009) and previous studieshave noted the presence of a domestic trade in Barbary macaques in Morocco (van Lavieren 2008; Nijman et al. 2015; Waters et al. 2016) and Algeria (Sabrina 2008) but no assessment of the online trade has been conducted in either country.
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Wildlife trade presents a major threat to primate populations, which are in demand from local to international scales for a variety of uses from food and traditional medicine to the exotic pet trade. We argue that an interdisciplinary framework to facilitate integration of socioeconomic, anthropological, and biological data across multiple spatial and temporal scales is essential to guide the study of wildlife trade dynamics and its impacts on primate populations. Here, we present a new way to design research on wildlife trade in primates using a systems thinking framework. We discuss how we constructed our framework, which follows a social-ecological system framework, to design an ongoing study of local, regional, and international slow loris (Nycticebus spp.) trade in Vietnam. We outline the process of iterative variable exploration and selection via this framework to inform study design. Our framework, guided by systems thinking, enables recognition of complexity in study design, from which the results can inform more holistic, site-appropriate, and effective trade management practices. We place our framework in the context of other approaches to studying wildlife trade and discuss options to address foreseeable challenges to implementing this new framework.
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Trade in primates is considered a major impediment to primate conservation globally. The bush- meat trade in West and Central Africa is considered largely unsustainable and represents one of the main threats to biodiversity. Furthermore, the use of primates in traditional practices and medicine includes a third of the African primate species. Little is known about the trade in the African main- land lorisiforms; pottos, angwantibos and galagos. Aiming to fill this knowledge gap we created an online survey, conducted a literature review, and analyzed CITES trade records, focusing on the last two decades. We obtained 188 questionnaire responses from researchers and people working in 31 different countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We found a total of 33 publications reporting on trade in African lorisiforms, and CITES records indicate that almost 2000 lorisiforms were traded inter- nationally from African range countries. Fifty-three percent of respondents provided meaningful details about aspects of the trade in African lorisiforms from 50% of the range countries. Galagos were reported by respondents in larger numbers than pottos and angwantibos, and mainly occurred in the pet trade. Pottos were the most frequently mentioned taxon in the literature, when all trade types were combined. Across all of the sources (online survey, literature and CITES database), trade in pottos and angwantibos was reported from 12 countries, and galagos from 23 countries. Trade was reported to occur mainly within rural settings (64%), potentially indicating that demand is not high enough to fuel long distance trading. However, as seen in the Asian lorisiforms, once quantitative studies were conducted, the threat that trade posed became alarmingly apparent and is now considered a major impediment to their conservation. Our insight into the trade of African lorisiforms should be followed up with concerted studies, with an emphasis on quantifying trade to the species level.
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