Illegal trade driving Barbary macaques to extinction

1 October 2014

Illegal trade will eventually wipe out unique primate species

According to WWF’s report Living Planet,” in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half”. For Barbary macaques, the only primate species north of the Sahara desert, this is even worse, warns AAP Foundation: in the last 30 years their population in Morocco and Algeria has decreased dramatically from approximately 23.000 to only 8.000 nowadays, a staggering 65% drop .

A new report by Utrecht University researcher Daan van Uhm reveals that an estimated 200 Barbary macaques, mostly infants, are being captured in the wild in Morocco every year to feed the European illegal pet trade and tourism industry. This number alone surpasses the population replacement rate. If the European Union and Morocco do not take the necessary steps to stop illegal trade now, this unique species could become extinct. The report also shows that the trade in Barbary macaques is increasingly organized by international criminal gangs. Corruption among Moroccan officials and lack of resources also contribute to the problem.

The role of the EU
The EU can play a vital role in the conservation of Barbary macaques by strengthening its own legislation and enforcement and influencing Morocco to follow suit. AAP will be in Brussels this October to present the conclusions of the report to an audience of EU officials, MEPs and other animal welfare organizations in order to muster support for further measures to protect the species. David van Gennep, director of AAP: “As WWF’s report shows, biodiversity loss is a major issue, and wildlife trafficking one of its causes. We are all rightfully alarmed about the horrible poaching of elephants, rhinos or gorillas, but the truth is that Barbary macaques are just as unique and much closer to home. As a rescue center we have been taking in these animals for decades, but we must go to the source of the problem. Including it in Europe’s strategy against illegal wildlife trade would send a very strong signal and signify a major step forward for the conservation of this singular primate.”

200 infants taken from the wild every year
Utrecht University researcher and criminologist Daan van Uhm conducted a research on the illegal trade of Barbary macaques on behalf of AAP. His report reveals that an estimated 200 Barbary macaques, mostly infants, are being captured in the wild in Morocco every year. The population cannot sustain this dramatic loss to the illegal trade, let alone additional threats such as habitat destruction.

Confiscations and rescue data indicate that a majority of these animals end up as domestic pets in Europe. Additionally, a significant number remains in Morocco, where they are exploited in the tourism industry as props for photographs and shows. Both situations lead to severe welfare problems for the animals and serious health and safety risks for humans.


In the last 30 years, this unique primate species has seen its population in Morocco and Algeria dwindle from approximately 23,000 to an estimated 8,000 nowadays. The largest wild subpopulation, which inhabits the mixed cedar forests of the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco, has been decimated: only 5,000 remain, a 65% decrease in just three decades.

Legislation and enforcement
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) included Barbary macaques in the IUCN red list of threatened species, under the ‘endangered’ status, in 2008. The species is currently listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means that international trade needs to be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with the species survival. It is also protected by national legislation in Morocco and Algeria, and the subject of an import ban in the EU. However, Barbary macaque trafficking is still rampant, so more drastic measures are in order.

Enforcement of the current legal provisions is lacking, partly due to a lack of attention and resources for this emblematic species. According to the recent research, in Morocco there is evidence of plain negligence, but also straightforward corruption among the authorities: “customs officers could be bribed for around 200 to 500 dirham (20 to 50 euros) and the smuggling process can continue”. When the organizations working in the field raise a poaching alert, they are often ignored.

Raising awareness
Both in Europe and Morocco there is limited awareness of the plight of Barbary macaques and the illegality of trade. Just last week AAP Primadomus, AAP’s rescue facility in Spain, received a 3-year-old macaque whose owner decided to give it up when he found out that keeping the animal was not allowed. AAP, in collaboration with its partners of the Barbary Macaque Coalition, has been addressing this issue with yearly education campaigns targeting travelers to Morocco and enhanced cooperation with the Spanish enforcement authorities, among other actions.


– featured image: MPC Foundation
– map: wikipedia

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