African monkey endangered

A Barbary macaque in a forest near the Moroccan town of Azrou, in the Atlas mountain chain. The only species of macaque outside Asia was once found throughout North Africa./FADEL SENNA/ AFP
A Barbary macaque in a forest near the Moroccan town of Azrou, in the Atlas mountain chain. The only species of macaque outside Asia was once found throughout North Africa./FADEL SENNA/ AFP

Chefchaouen, Morocco - "If nothing is done, this species will disappear within 10 years," warns a poster on Ahmed Harrad's ageing 4x4 showing Morocco's famed Barbary macaque monkey.

Harrad spends his time crisscrossing northern Morocco to try to convince locals to protect the endangered monkey. The only species of macaque outside Asia, which lives on leaves and fruits and can weigh up to 20kg, was once found throughout North Africa and parts of Europe.

But having disappeared from Libya and Tunisia, it is now restricted to mountainous regions of Algeria and Morocco's northern Rif region. Another semi-wild population of about 200 individuals in Gibraltar are the only free-ranging monkeys in Europe.

The only native primate north of the Sahara, apart from humans, is in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Conservationists blame illegal poaching, tourists who feed the monkeys and over-exploitation of the cedar and oak forests that form the species' natural habitat.

In response, Morocco has launched a campaign to save the species. "We are working on two areas - monitoring and making a census . and raising awareness among locals so that they actively help rescue it," Harrad said.

As head of Barbary Macaque Awareness & Conservation, Harrad is a tireless advocate for the animal. He says it is often sold to buyers in Europe for between ?100 and ?300 (R1500 and R4500) despite laws forbidding the trade. "A lot of foreigners buy monkeys as pets."

Seen as quiet and cute when it is young, the adult monkey can become a burden. "It breaks things, bites, fights with children and climbs the curtains," prompting many owners to abandon their pets, he said.

But that hasn't stopped the tailless monkeys, with their thick grey-and-ginger fur, being highly sought-after.

Zouhair Ahmaouch, an official at Morocco's High Commission for Water, Forests and Combating Desertification, said the new conservation plan focused on tackling poaching. But Morocco "can't repatriate monkeys released in Europe, because we don't know whether they came from Gibraltar, Algeria or Morocco", he said.

Algiers also has plans to protect the species.

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