In October 2022, Corey and I travelled to Marrakech, Morocco for a wonderful autumn getaway. It was a country neither of us had visited before and it was a fantastic experience immersing ourselves in another culture which differed so much from our own. However, with this came a few difficulties and differences of option; One of which I found particularly hard was the use and treatment of animals which is something I’d like to address in this blog post.
Warning – This is not my usual light-hearted post, but I did feel this was an important topic to write about and would hopefully help other tourists make good choices when it comes to animal activities when travelling.
The people of Marrakech are very tolerant of a large street cat population. In fact, many locals feed them and encourage them to stick around to control rodent numbers. In many holiday destinations around Europe, we have experienced restaurant staff in particular having an active distaste for cats . Conversely, in Marrakech you will often find yourself with an additional dinner guest and no one seems too put out by it. Dogs are seen seldomly in comparison, however, once again those you do see are treated with respect. The Marrakech canines are often very well mannered, well looked after, and like the cat population, usually happy for some attention.
* PLEASE BE AWARE TOUCHING ANY ANIMAL YOU DON’T KNOW MAY RESULT IN BEING BITTEN OR SCRATCHED. TRY TO READ AND LISTEN TO AN ANIMAL’S BODY LANGUAGE BEFORE REACHING OUT TO TOUCH IT. MOROCCO DOES HAVE RABIES SO IF YOU ARE BITTEN GO TO THE HOSPITAL FOR A RABIES VACCINATION IMMEDIATELY *
In my books, this is an absolute no! The so called “snake charmers” sit in the main square ready to ambush unsuspecting tourists or tout to those ignorant to this cruel practice. They charge to take photos of the snakes in that classic striking position and in some cases they will even drape snakes around tourists’ necks for extra money. At best this practice is incredibly stupid and at worst, incomprehensibly cruel, as the snakes are often rendered defenceless. They have their mouths sewn shut so they are unable to bite but can still flick their tongues to portray that classic menacing appearance. Due to this mutilation, they are unable to eat and slowly die of starvation, at which point they are quickly replaced by another victim of this cruel trade. If you are traveling to Marrakech, please do not support this cruelty, I know it can be tempting and novel to get a picture with a cobra but until we start to condemn this practice, this awful trade will continue.
Once again, another cruel practice. Monkeys are taken from the wild, often as babies and are forced to dress up in human clothes and are dragged around on chains being plonked on tourists’ shoulders to pose for photos. This is an incredibly unnatural life for them, they often end up with a multitude of psychological problems and their diets are often very poor. In addition, some of these poor monkeys have their teeth pulled or filed to prevent them harming tourists and their captors. Once again, despite the temptation please resist supporting this practice. Even if you take pictures from afar, if you are caught the “entertainers” will chase after you and threateningly demand money.
If you wish to see and even interact with monkeys on their own terms, head up into the Atlas Mountains where there are many wild ones that are very used to humans, so you can get very close to them. Disclaimer – you may end up being pick-pocketed at the same time, keep all personal items safely zipped away or you may find your Raybans have a new owner!
Despite staying well clear of all the other animal related tourism in Marrakech, Corey and I did ride a camel in the Sahara. Now, I can here you screaming about my hypocrisy already and that’s an entirely fair opinion to have. However, hear me out. The camels on our excursion to Zagora (the outskirts of the Sahara Desert) do two jobs per day – a half an hour ride in the morning to transport guests from the camp back to the buses and an hour ride in the evening to transport new guests to the camp. These are desert animals that can travel infinitely greater distances than this easily, one and a half hours work per day is nothing. They were in excellent condition, sat chewing their cud peacefully while they waited to be mounted and there was no evidence of any ill treatment or saddle sores (trust me, I checked!). They used rope halters to guide them and a single rope around their bottom jaw behind their canine teeth acting like a bit – similar to a horse’s bridle which didn’t interfere with eating. The guide loved his camels and would regularly be scratching their neck, patting them throughout the journey and was excited to tell me all about them. The animals were very well handled and friendly towards guests with no fear of human interactions which is usually a promising sign too.
Now, it’s not to say that there weren’t things I wouldn’t change; Some of the younger camels in training did have nose rings but they also had a halter and we didn’t see any of the guides using the nose rings while we were there. Some of the camels (not all) were also branded which again is a practice I’d prefer not to see but it is still something which happens in the UK and elsewhere in the world with horses, cattle etc so this isn’t purely an issue in Morocco. The moral of the story is, try to book tours with companies that take animal welfare into consideration and if you don’t like what you see, refuse to take part in it, positive attitudes towards animal experiences is what will drive change.
Horse Carriage Rides
Proceed with caution! Now, I don’t want to tar every horseman with the same brush because we did see some very healthy, glossy coated horses with nice fitting tack who looked well cared for. But there were also many who looked miserable, skinny and were being driven despite obvious health conditions.
If you desperately want to go on a city carriage ride, here are a few tips for assessing a healthy horse:
- A horse should never be resting a front foot, it is natural for them to rest alternate back feet but if they are stood with their weight off a front foot, it’s a strong indication that horse is lame and shouldn’t be partaking in carriage rides.
- Body Condition – This is to assess how well fed a horse is. If their ribs and hips are visibly sticking out, then that horse is too thin and it’s a good indicator of its general health and of how well cared for it is.
- Tack – is the tack clean, is it well maintained? Is there any evidence of it rubbing the horse anywhere creating hair loss or sores?
- Do the horses look miserable – A happy horse should be alert, interested in its surroundings, ears flickering
- Step back and observe how the handler treats the horses, if they’re handled gently, if they are getting doused with water after work, offered a drink, if he pats them, tends to their feet, feeds them etc. These are all good signs he cares about his animals. Steer clear of rough handling, shouting, yanking reigns or whipping.
I hope you have found this post informative and that it has armed you with a bit more information for your travels as many of these tips can be applied to other animal encounters across the world. It is important as tourists we put our money into ethical and cruelty-free encounters and practices. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and call out things you don’t think are right. Don’t be bullied into taking part in things you aren’t comfortable with. Ask your tour agencies if they have a policy to support responsible animal practices. The more we ask these questions and the more we vote with our feet in these matters, it will drive change for the better and hopefully result in the extinction of animal cruelty for the benefit of tourism.
If you have any questions regarding animal related tourism, would like some advice on things you’ve seen or places you are traveling to, feel free to contact me.