Barbary macaques makes comeback in the Rif Mountains

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For years scientists have thought Barbary macaques, an Old World monkey, only occurred in small numbers in the Rif Mountains of Morocco. However, a recent survey conducted by Barbary Macaque Awareness and Conservation (BMAC) revealed there are at least 5 000 Barbary macaques in the study area.

The Barbary macaque is the only African primate found north of the Sahara Desert in Morocco and Algeria. It is also the only member of the Macaca genus found outside Asia. The Rif Mountain Barbary macaques are the last truly wild macaques in Morocco.

“The population was badly underestimated due to their secretive nature and the terrain in which they occur,” explains Sian Waters, founder and director of BMAC. The organisation enlisted the help of local forest users to help locate troops of macaques. If survey teams were unable to find the macaques they confirmed the species presence by faecal matter.

Surveys in 1980 and 2004 found very low to non-existent populations in the study areas. “The isolated, hostile and rocky terrain of the Rif Mountains is ideal macaque habitat,” Waters explains. “The winter rainfall ensures good acorn harvests, which are important to build the macaques up before the harsh winters.” The omnivorous macaques feed on plants, seeds, acorns, leaves, shoots, insects and mushrooms.

Major threats facing the Moroccan macaques are persecution and harvesting of macaques as pets or for tourism. Another significant threat is isolated populations as a result of habitat degradation due to logging, urbanisation and overgrazing. In the Rif Mountains, cannabis plantations pose a threat to the macaques as many of these monkeys live outside protected areas.

The destructive macaques do not adapt well to domestic life. They cannot be trained, therefore make terrible pets, says Waters. Dressed-up macaques are often used as photo props for tourists. To view wild habituated macaques, conscientious tourists can visit the Middle Atlas Mountains. “However, seeing truly wild macaques takes a lot of patience, hard work and guidance from experts who know where to find them,” says Waters.

Written by Georgina Lockwood 

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