By: Demelza Bond
Poaching has long been a major problem in Ifrane National Park, and the magnificent primates who inhabit the forests there are at a constant, substantial risk of falling victim to those who pursue them for profit. Due to the fact that groups of tourists regularly feed the habituated Barbary macaques in Ifrane, they are becoming increasingly un-phased by any human presence; which in turn makes it much easier for poachers to get close to the curious and trusting monkeys. Poor youngsters are effortlessly snatched and taken away from their natural habitats and families to be sold in the cruel, illegal pet trade.
Unfortunately there has been a significant rise again in poaching activity in recent years. This means more wild monkeys are being stolen and sold as pets or working props. They will most likely undergo immense physical and psychological suffering as a result, as they are deprived of their natural surroundings and all opportunity to interact with others of their species. It also poses a threat to the wellbeing of macaque numbers nationally, creating huge dents in their already dwindling populations.
Since 2008, Barbary macaques have been listed as Endangered by the IUCN, and so it is absolutely vital that these beautiful little monkeys remain in the forest where they belong. This is why MPC piloted their first ever anti-poaching scheme in 2014; in a bid to protect the vulnerable infants of the forêt d’Azrou, funded by the International Primate Protection League.
Overall the pilot was a great success. MPC deployed two monkey guards who were granted authority to take action by the INP authorities, were they to detect poaching activity. One of our guards managed to stop an entire group of poachers one night – and the local community’s awareness of intensified surveillance possibly lead to a decrease in poaching attempts overall. Six of the eight guarded groups amazingly still had all of their infants after two months of surveillance during the heaviest poaching season (August to October). Whereas, last year, a devastating 80% of the forest’s infants were actually poached in one night.
Not only does the presence of MPC staff deter poachers, but it allows us to educate visitors about conservation issues! On average we were able to speak to around 80 tourists per week which means that about 650 national and international visitors could be made aware of the consequences of feeding the monkeys, and the atrocities of the macaque pet trade. We also wanted to work with the fossil sellers in the park. Fossil sellers run small shops there and have a tendency to feed the monkeys in order to keep them close-by to attract tourists. As it is their livelihood, we would like to educate the fossil sellers on how they too can be part of the growing effort to protect the macaques, particularly by feeding them only healthy, natural foods like fruit or nuts, and to do so in locations far away from the dangerous roads.
We are very proud of the achievements made this time around, and would like to give a massive thank you to Mohamed, Badr, Hassan, Liz and Paddy for their amazing work in Ifrane National park. MPC is now looking forward to the future. We would like to increase the number of guards and to expand surveillance to southern INP. Flyers and posters will also be created so that more and more visitors can be made aware of the plight of the macaques, whilst still enjoying the opportunity to visit the forests and be in their magical presence.