Author: Demelza Bond
Contents derived from thesis research report by Molly Gray (Oxford Brookes University)
In Ourika Valley in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco lies a constellation of villages where agriculture is not only the centre of the economy; but a way of life for the Berber inhabitants there. For most of the village farmers, cultivated crops are their main source of income, and for some it is their sole source. Two groups of Barbary macaques also inhabit the area and are unfortunately raiding and eating large portions of the crops on a regular basis, causing major issues for the locals and creating a significant annual income deficit for many of the farmers. Molly Grey visited the valley in 2014, to carry out research into the effects of crop-raiding macaques, and to gather information about the farmers’ perceptions of these rogue monkeys.
Speaking to 70 farmers between the ages of 18 and 80, she discovered that overall an average of 29% of their crops were being damaged or eaten annually by the macaque groups. Due to a limited number of income sources in the area, the growth and sale of cherries, apples, pears, walnuts, tomatoes and onions are imperative to the farmers’ wellbeing and survival, and an intensifying level of crop-raiding over the past 5-10 years has thus left them feeling hopeless and frustrated. The farmers did not necessarily express a dislike of the monkeys, but wished to find a way to deter them from literally eating away at their livelihoods. Chemicals (such as phosphates) are used as a simple solution to insect damage, but in the case of the increasingly brave and undeterred macaques, the farmers’ attempts at scaring or chasing them away are predictably futile in most cases.
A lack of access to weapons, combined with the belief for many of the Muslim farmers that it would be anti-Islamic to use lethal preventative methods against the monkeys; means that the macaques in this area are fortunate compared to many other primate populations across the globe who are systematically shot at for crop-raiding activity. Farmers also expressed an understanding of the need to conserve the species, due to the fact that under the IUCN they are now listed as Endangered, but believe that the government should take measures to protect the farmers’ quality of life, as well as macaques, and find a solution to the human/primate conflict taking place.
The two groups of macaques consisted of 32 individuals (Ilkiri group) and 48 individuals (Agadir group) who would move from farm to farm raiding crops throughout the day and retire around 7.45pm each night. The monkeys tended to show a preference towards walnuts and apples, but this may be relative to the fact that these two items are the most widely grown. However all of the food items grown in the valley are palatable to the macaques and so all are at risk of severe damage. Many of the farmers held the misconception that the populations of macaques were actually increasing, which added to their feelings of anguish.
Unfortunately this form of conflict is growing all over the world, as human populations increase and encroach on to non-human primate habitats, and periods of drought make it difficult for primate populations to find viable sources of food in the wild. Whilst a solution will not be straightforward, the issue must be addressed, and the government and Toubkal National Park need to begin engaging in discourse with the local communities to create possible solutions. Whilst the farmers are facing clear hardship it also is important to remember that macaque populations are declining dramatically in Morocco and continued support for conservational efforts are desperately needed. As Molly states in her report, it is important to understand the problem from both sides if we are ever going to successfully mitigate the conflict and one day co-exist peacefully.