Category Archives: Blogspot

MonkeyWatch Promo Video

10/15/2015Blogspot, News

We are very excited this week to have launched the promo video for MonkeyWatch, our exciting eco-tourism, monitoring and anti-poaching programme, in partnership with the Barbary Macaque Project.

MonkeyWatch offers tourists the unique opportunity to come and join us in carrying out fieldwork to protect the Barbary macaque monkeys of Morocco. Our experienced guides will take visitors through the mixed cedar and oak forests of Ifrane National Park, teaching them survey techniques and all about the natural behaviour of Barbary macaques in the wild.

MonkeyWatch does more than offer tourists an exciting day out, it allows them to contribute to the conservation of endangered Barbary macaques. The presence of our ego-guard guides means we can help reduce illegal poaching and logging, and create awareness among local communities of the need to protect, monitor and conserve the wild macaque populations.

The fate of the endangered Barbary macaque lies in the success of such projects, and we really need to get the word out in order to continue to protect this beautiful species.

If you haven’t caught the amazing video made by Ateles Films on our social media pages, you can watch it right here:

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to our generous sponsors: The International Primate Protection League, Trentham Monkey Forest, Montagne des Singes, La Forêt de Singes and Affenberg Salem.

Visit for more information.

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Be the change that you wish to see in the world – M. Gandhi


10 years



I just woke up in the same hotel room where I have been staying while in Morocco for over 10 years now. The noise outside of the bus station is still exactly the same as it has always been. Hustlers trying to get people in to their taxis and buses, screaming the names of the destination cities with the most annoying voices. Believe me, I have had many visions of ways to make them stop when I was trying to get work done. After such a long time, nothing much has changed. And that somehow characterizes Morocco. Despite the rapid development and changes implemented by the King, time in Morocco somehow always seems to stand still and the basic things on the streets that make Morocco so typical, never seem to change.

What has changed since I started my work with MPC is my hotel room. Back in 2005 until 2 years ago, I was staying in what I always referred to as Cockroach Inn rooms. Tiny rooms, no window, no heater to warm me up when I came back from a 10 km transect in the field up to my knees in snow and no hot shower. I would be sitting with a woollen blanket covering my head to keep me warm, while my blue freezing fingers tried to add data in the laptop. Today I stay in a room with private bathroom, for 10 Euro a night – something that was too expensive for me when I started with MPC.

What also has changed is the fact that back in 2005, the only person I knew in Azrou was my field assistant. My life in Morocco could be very lonely at the time. The days in the forest with the monkeys were incredible, but the evenings could be very challenging. If I look at my life here now, I am proud to say that I have made some great friends and that MPC has grown to be an organisation with 9 local staff, who are working in the forest to protect the macaques as I speak.

I am so proud of what MPC has achieved since I started this work. I think that I am living proof of how far passion can take you. When I sum up the projects that we have implemented and what we have achieved, it almost seems surreal to me. The day that I left my life behind in Holland to fight for the Barbary macaques in Morocco is still so clear in my memory.

The macaques are still up there in that incredible forest of Ifrane NP, only 4 km away from me. The fast decline in numbers of the past decades has come to a standstill. I like to believe that I have contributed to this. Change is inevitable in life, and sometimes change is good. But the disappearance of the Barbary macaques in Morocco is definitely not a change that we should accept…. CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT WE ACHIEVED!


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Tree hugger


I just came back from a holiday in Suriname. My first time in South America and the first time i spent time in pristine Neotropical rain forest. I grew up in Africa and Asia where i saw many tropical rainforests  and am very familiar with the Old World primates, but I have to admit that the forests of central Suriname are of a different level.
I was priviliged to spend quite some time on Foengoe island, near the Ralleigh falls in the middle of the Coppename river. It took 4,5 hours on a bumpy road through the forest and 2,5 hours by small boat to get there, km’s of primary rain forest along the shores with no human presence for miles except ourselves. This place is one of the most stunning places i have ever been. What made everything even more amazing, was that there was a local guide who grew up in this region in the forest and who knows every plant, insect, tree and animal in this forest. Trekking through the humid rainforest with up to 60 m high giant monumental trees, learning about the relationship between the flora and fauna, for example the role of the 8 primate species (of which i got to see 5) in seed dispersal, the predation strategies of the fruits and plants etc , made me have an ever deeper respect for nature than i had before.  I woke up every morning when it was still dark and sat by the river and watched the jungle wake up. Places like this bring me to tears of happiness – a feeling i cannot describe but that everybody has to experience for themselves.
And it makes me wonder how other people cannot feel the same? For me i feel this immediate connection with the forest and i must admit i never wanted to leave that place again. And there are many people around me who share that connection. The local staff were absolute forest dwellers who would not fit in a concrete world and who would fight to protect this forest if it’s the last thing they do.
So how is it possible that there are people who do not share that strong feeling of respect for nature and are capable of ruining this important ecosystem for ecomic reasons? I find it hard to believe that us humans don’t all have a biologically instinctive connection with nature. Or is this caused by where and how you grow up?
Driving back to Paramaribo on the forest road we passed 10 trucks with massive logs piled up on the back and with every truck i saw i felt more sadness and fear that this forest, although a reserve, will disappear if logging keeps going at this rate.
How can we stop this from happening?
I always want to believe that any person who sees places like this with their own eyes would never be capable of chopping down a tree or buying products that threaten the survival of these forests. But that is far from the truth unfortunately. I probably buy things in shops that contain damaging products such as palmoil every time i go to the supermarket.
Maybe i am just a nature nerd, but it’s not just that – as a species we are being so stupid even though we claim to be so intelligent.
I am an optimist by heart, but i see the future of places like this not too brightly. And i realize how lucky i am to be able to travel to places like this now, and be able to dedicate my life to nature conservation as much as possible. A tree hugger, yep, that’s what i am – and i carry that titel with pride. I just wish that term was cooler and more popular than it is in our society….
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Panda scandal


Everybody who works in conservation knows that funding is and always will be a major issue. I am not talking about our non existent or low salaries; this is something we unfortunately often have little choice in than to accept it. And lucky as we are, most of us are passionate and driven people – which is often more satisfying than a fat paycheck. Often, I said…..because admittedly, financial security would be nice for a change.

No, I am mainly talking about the struggle to find funds for important projects. We all know the feeling of having spent weeks on this amazing funding proposal, and being extremely proud of ourselves after having submitted the proposal to a fund. That feeling of anticipation when waiting for a positive reply, because the proposal meets all the criteria and simply kicks ass this time.

Finally, after waiting for ages, at least that’s what it feels like, you receive an email in your inbox telling you – we are sorry to inform you that …… and we don’t even read any further. Disappointment. But mainly anger is what I feel. Because for me, what I do is the most important thing in the world. For me it is hard to understand that somebody else does not share my belief that the Barbary macaque shoud be stopped from going extinct.

But then the anger slowly fades and I realize that I am competing with thousands of people like myself who need funds to save “their” species. This I can accept of course.

But what I can’t accept is the sums of money that are wasted on wild animal related projects that to my opinion should be used for small ngo’s that often make a huge difference in the world. I will give you an example.

Did you know that a (private) zoo in Belgium called Pairi Daiza is paying China €700.000 Euro per year to exhibit 2 pandas that are on loan from China? On top of that this “zoo” pays 1 million Euro annually for food and care, and an extra €100.000 annually for insurance.

If you were not impressed yet – here’s another example. And I realise I might come across as a panda basher – but I am happy to take that risk.

Edinburgh Zoo pays €750.000 annually to China for 2 pandas. If one dies they have to pay China £300.000. They invested £300.000 in a specialized panda exhibit. And buying bamboo to feed these moneytake…I mean moneymakers costs the zoo £70.000 every year.

Oh, I see, the panda is the symbol of nature? Symbol my ***!

With these amounts of money, small ngos like MPC, and with us many many others who are doing amazing work in conservation, can work for years and years and actually make a difrerence for the future of our planet.

Or is that not what we really want deep in our hearts? Do we rather spend money on seeing a panda in an artificial environment in Scotland or France? I mean, what’s so special about a Barbary macaque right?

Well, I hereby invite you all to come to Morocco and participate in our eco-tourism programme called MonkeyWatch to see for yourself what all my fuss is about. See you in Azrou?

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Extreme conservation


I am currently at the conference of the European Federation for Primatologists in Antwerp and last night during the opening session we saw a very inspiring and touching movie about the Virunga National Park in the Congo. This national park is known for the mountain gorilla population. The director of the national park, Emmanuel de Merode told us about his team of incredibly dedicated rangers that patrol the dangerous area to protect the Gorilla’s from rebels and poachers. Half of the rangers have died since he has been director and I cannot get this out of my mind. These are extreme conservation measures – and they work. The number of mountain gorillas in this area increasing more than anywhere else. But at what cost you would wonder? The rangers said themselves that they want to die to protect these animals. How committed is that? I often thought I was kind of radical or at least very committed  but I wonder when somebody actually keeps me at gunpoint will I still feel that committed? I would like to think I would, but I hope I will ever find out, despite the rare moments that I am threatened because of my involvement in the fight against illegal trade. Deep respect to all the rangers who fight every day to protect our beautiful planet.

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Put a bullet(in) the traffic


I just picked up the new edition of the TRAFFIC Bulletin, a very interesting magazine about current wildlife trade issues around the world.  Now you must think, why is this of any importance?

Well, actually it was a copy of a TRAFFIC Bulletin issue back in 2003 that made me initially realize that something should be done about the illegal trade in Barbary macaques in Morocco.

I was at the time working at AAP, a rescue center for exotic animals in the Netherlands as head of the animal care department , and  the numbers of macaques offered to AAP for shelter were going through the roof. So many Barbary macaques were offered to us by ex owners, authorities, zoos and sanctuaries around Europe that we had to maintain a waiting list – more that 60 macaques were on the waiting list permanently. AAP simply could not provide for all these poor victims of the illegal pet trade.

Many ex owners explained to us that they had bought the macaques on the “souks” in Morocco and smuggled them illegally across the border into Spain. Unfortunately these people did not know at the time that keeping a primate as a pet is bound to end up in failure and suffering for these individual monkeys. After a while the macaques would become impossible to handle in domestic situations and the owners wanted to get rid of these “pets”.

Macaques were found roaming the streets of Paris, or tied up to a post somewhere near a petrol station. I myself was involved in a rescue of 3 little macaques who were all found in the region of Paris.

At the time I estimated that a minimum of 300 macaques ended up in Europe this way straight from the wild in Morocco.

So when I read the the section in TRAFFIC Bulletin where they give an overview of the confiscations of illegally smuggled animals and plants per country and Morocco was not mentioned once, I started doing some research in former editions and found out that there had been no mention of anything concerning Barbary macaque trade in Morocco at all – while the trade was booming.

This was the start of everything I have done today on Barbary macaque conservation so far. Unfortunately there is still no mention of Barbary macaque confiscations at the Moroccan borders in the bulletin, but at least we are working hard in Morocco now to tackle these illegal activities!

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Outsiders inside


I was asked to join a meeting organized by IUCN Mediterranean and the Moroccan High Commissary of Water and Forests about the process of creating and implementing species conservation action plans (CAPs) in Morocco. Of course this alone was an honor as I strongly feel that since we have created the CAP for the Barbary macaque together with the Moroccan authorities that MPC is seen as part of the inside crowd for species conservation in Morocco.

While identifying plant and animal species in Morocco that need a CAP, based on criteria such as the status, the importance of the species in ecosystems, cultural, economic and social importance, I realised for the first time exactly why the conservation of the Barbary macaque in Morocco has been so difficult. While talking about for example striped hyenas, the endangered gazelles, not a single person saw reason to react negatively or discuss the status. One participant even mentioned the otter, a species that is not endangered in Morocco, and nobody questioned this species. However, the Barbary macaque again caused some resistance (not by the authorities by the way). One person in particular even believed that the shifting from the category “Vulnerable” to “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List was based on wrong data and that the research on which this decision was based on was not valid as it was not approved or conducted by the Moroccan authorities. This shocked me, as this is incorrect, and on top of that, I find it quite an insult to the people who have worked hard to assess the species in the wild over the last decade.

It slowly became clear to me that the defensive attitude of some people (and many in the past) is caused by the fact that there has been and still is such a pressure from outside of Morocco, and everything that is claimed by people outside the country (even if it is scientifically proven and/ or it’s obvious because the consequences are clearly there) is seen as criticism. To acknowledge failure is not an easy thing, especially to people from the “West” who seem to know everything better.

It’s interesting. The proof is there, the many scientific studies can prove it all, the macaques that end up in Europe that are handed over by their ex owners who admit to have bought it in Morocco and smuggled it to Morocco prove an active illegal trade, the macaque poachers and sellers admit to it all, but still there are people who refuse to believe the obvious.

I am glad the authorities that we work with have changed their attitude.

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International Primatological Society meeting Mexico


It has been a little while since I (Els) was at the International Primatolocial Society meeting (IPS) in Cancun. This conference is one of the rare meetingsthat I attend. I often feel that conferences are a waste of time and money that it is better spent on conservation in the field. Moreover I feel that taking action in the field is better than talking about conservation…

The IPS however is a meeting where all the primatologists around the work come together to present their research, experiences, successes, failures with others. It is also incredibly inspirational to hear about all the amazing work that so many people are doing around the world to save our primates.

Apart from Godelieve Kranendonk, a friend and colleague at AAP who presented her research on the influence on chemical castration in male Barbary macaques, I was the only one who represented our only north African and European primate. I chose to give an inspiring talk. Obviously I did talk about the bad shape that the populations of Barbary macaques are in, but I also wanted to inspire people to not give up, even when all odds are against you. We have been fighting for 8 years to convince the Moroccan authorities to take action and now we have a Conseravation Action Plan (CAP) ready to be executed in full support of the the Moroccan government. We still have a long way to go but this is a perfect starting point and frankly one I never expected to reach!

A well respected primatologist and colleague Prof. John Oates received the IPS lifetime achievement award. John has been fighting for the protection of West African primates for a very long time and in his speech he made a point about things that i fully agree on. The most important one was the fact that so many funds are always allocated towards the same species (apes for example, because they resemble humans so much and they are more “sexy”species for funding organisations). But in the meantime so much less

funds go to the less known or “sexy”species. He is right. We too experience this. Big organisations have literally called Barbary macaques “Non prioirty species” and North Africa a “Non priotiy region”! This is shocking to me, and I thank John for making a point of this.

I did not find any new funders and that is bad news for MPC and especially the Barbary macaque because we are running out of funds very fast right now. Let’s hope the world wakes up before it is too late!

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Volunteers needed in Spain this summer


Volunteers are needed from 1th to 16th July to help us to raise a awareness Campaign of the Illegal Trafficking of Barbary macaques! Like former years, DEPANA, AAP, with BMCRif and MPC will start the “Paso del Estrecho” Campaign. This campaign aims to raise awareness to all passengers in transit to Morocco of the importance of the Barbary macaques in their natural environment, as well as the unsuitability of these animals to keep as a pets. During these days of summer we need volunteers to distribute information and materials to all travelers crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from Algeciras and Tarifa ports. If you like being in contact with people from different countries and environmental education, Paso del Estrecho Campaign may be a good place to also doing a very important job for the conservation of Barbary macaques. If you are interested in participating as a volunteer, contact us via specifying availability and interests. It is necessary to commit a minimum of 3/5 days, but if you live in the are a may be less. Desirable to speak French, English and/or Arabic in addition to Castilian. Come and help!

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MPC UK We are happy to inform you that MPC has a new colleague on our team – Kristina Stazaker, who is setting up and running our new UK based MPC branch. MPC UK will focus on raising awareness and funds in the UK. Welcome Kristina. More news on this soon.

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the Idea


Stichting Moroccan Primate Conservation/
Moroccan Primate Conservation foundation
Van Hogendorpstraat 68E,
1051 BS, Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31(0)644787261 /

About us

MPC is an NGO that has successfully worked on the conservation of the endangered Barbary macaque in Morocco since 2003. MPC is the official partner of the Moroccan government for the protection of this unique species. 

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