In the wild
Some places in Morocco – for example, Ifrane National Park and the waterfalls of Ouzoud – are home to groups of Barbary macaques which are habituated to human presence. This means they have less fear of people than unhabituated macaques do. Habituated macaques will not necessarily run away when they see individuals or groups of people, and this allows people to get very close to them. While the macaques will tolerate this to a certain degree, there are behaviours that are detrimental to them.
- Just as you wouldn’t approach a complete stranger in the street and try to touch them, you shouldn’t do this to a macaque. They may be used to humans overall, but that doesn’t mean they are used to you specifically, or that they would want to be touched by you even if they were.
- Like us, Barbary macaques are easily tempted by foods that are bad for them, even when they aren’t hungry. The forests they live in provide enough natural food for them, and they are adept at foraging to find the acorns, wild fruits, lichen and invertebrates they are meant to eat. However, even a macaque with a full stomach will feel driven to eat a banana, cake or handful of sweets offered by tourists. Not only is this detrimental to their health, but it breeds aggression by completely eradicating their fear of humans, and leading them to associate humans with food.
- Barbary macaques are beautiful, and it is natural to want to see them close up, or to take good photos to show people when you get home. As with physical contact, though, remember that you are still a stranger to these macaques, and personal space should be respected. Don’t crowd them or back them into corners, and take photographs from a comfortable distance, the same way you would with another person.
In the city
If you visit Marrakech, it is very likely you will go to Jmaa El F’naa, the city’s famous square, and see the Barbary macaques that are kept there as photo props and performers. The macaques are kept on chains or leads when their handlers are using them, and are often dressed in baby clothes. When they are not being used, they are enclosed in hot, cramped metal boxes.
These Barbary macaques have been captured from the wild as babies; a process which is traumatic and frightening for them and the rest of their group. Once separated from their families, they often have only humans for company, and when they get older and are not so easy to handle, they are often beaten to make them submit.
As harmless and fun as it might seem to pose for a photo with one of these macaques on your shoulder, or to give money to their handlers to watch them perform tricks, it is actually a link in the chain of the illegal trade which is threatening Barbary macaque populations in the wild. Not only do individual macaques suffer when kept as performers and photo props; the effect of tourists posting photos of them on social media spreads the idea that this kind of thing is acceptable for its cuteness, and encourages people to see them as suitable pets.
If you see Barbary macaques kept like this, don’t stop to photograph them or interact with them. As hard as it is, please don’t be tempted to ‘rescue’ a macaque yourself by buying it from its handler, or from someone deliberately selling it as a pet – the money you give them will enable them to pay someone to capture several more infant macaques from the wild. In situations where you think a macaque needs to be confiscated, either in Marrakech or elsewhere, you should contact BMAC on email@example.com or through our Facebook page and we will report the macaque to the authorities, who can take appropriate action.