Moroccan Wildlife on the Brink

The Barbary Macaque, unique to North Africa and most prevalent in Morocco, is in imminent danger of extinction, according to the Daily Mail. Although Moroccan conservation authorities are working to preserve and manage the remaining population, the monkeys face multiple threats from poachers, pet seekers, and tourists who feed the monkeys. Obesity and other illnesses not only threaten the health of the monkeys, but also result in reduced fertility. Chief among the threats, however, is deforestation and loss of habitat.

Morocco is home to a wide range of species endemic to the region and dating from Palearctic times. The species — both plants and animals — have evolved in relative isolation in the mountains, with the result, for example, that the Barbary Macaque is the only Macaque indigenous to Africa.

A combination of environmental factors, including but not limited to global warming, have put Morocco’s unique ecosystem in peril, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Morocco has lost 75 percent of its forests in the past century, which WWF attributes in large part to timber sales, clearance of land in order to grow kif, especially in the Rif, and changes in traditional modes of life. The WWF explains:

The collapse of the semi-nomadic Berber pastoral system has transformed summer camps in the high mountain grasslands into permanent human settlements. A large amount of firewood is collected, in many cases illegally. Intensive collection of cedar branches frequently kills the trees. Furthermore, the need for livestock fodder during winter gives rise to extensive overgrazing and soil degradation in the forest understory. Overgrazing and land conversion into agriculture is also an important human impact in the broadleaf forest area.

Deforestation has had devastating impact on the wildlife of the region, from the extinction of the Barbary Lion, near extinction of the Barbary Leopard, and the anticipated demise of the Barbary Macaque. Hundreds of species of trees are also threatened.

As the WWF points out, however, there is a clear downward spiral in which economic hardship fuels destruction of natural resources, and destruction of natural resources fuels economic hardship. While Morocco has taken more initiative and shouldered more responsibility than other Maghrebian countries, and in some cases has larger populations to preserve, there is a real question as to whether conservation measures are too little, too late.

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