One of my favorite stops in Morocco was in the Cedar Forest southeast of Azrou in the Middle Atlas Mountains where we saw and interacted with Barbary apes, also more appropriately known as Barbary macaques. It is the only species of macaque found outside of Asia and the only primate in Africa north of the Sahara Desert. It is also the only primate found in Europe (we saw the only wild population in Europe in Gibralter about a decade ago).
|Barbary apes in the cedar forest above Azrou, Morocco.|
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed the Barbary ape as endangered since 2009. They used to be found throughout North Africa, from Libya to Morocco, and in portions of Europe. Now there is only a small population of about 230 in Gibralter, an estimated 5,500 in Algeria and an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 in Morocco. In Morocco, there are fragmented and isolated populations in the Rif Mountains and High Atlas Mountains and the balance of the population in the cedar forests of the central Middle Atlas Mountains, where we saw them, containing about 65 to 75% of the world's remaining population.
After Ifrane we hit an intersection outside of Azrou and turned south (left) on the N13 toward Midelt. We traveled uphill and hit the cedar forest. Near the top of the hill we saw a sign obviously showing that the Barbary apes were present, even though we could not read it, then a little later came upon an open space on the left side where people were selling rocks and fossils. Aziz, our driver, parked in the large parking area there and we crossed the street into the cedar trees were we found quite a few of the Barbary apes milling about.
I was filled in some sense with wonder at being able to get so close to these beautiful animals, as well as revulsion as I viewed the area they were in was filled with discarded candy wrappers and plastic bags and wishing that more were being done to protect them and their habitat.
The term "Barbary" comes from the word "Berber," referring to the Berber people of North Africa. The Berbers are distributed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River. Barbary, as in Barbary Coast, was the term used by Europeans from the 16th to 19th centuries to refer to the land of the Berber people, what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.