When people think of wildlife, Kenyan safaris and the Galapagos Islands often come to mind. Few people would consider Morocco to be a destination worthy of visiting for its wildlife, yet well-preserved national parks and vast expanses of forests are not only natural retreats but home to a wide variety of birds, reptiles and mammals.
Morocco has more than 40 different ecosystems with habitats for many endemic species. Over the years, the country’s cities and industrial centers have had a direct impact on the wildlife. Unfortunately, numerous species of plants and animals in Morocco are endangered due to industrialization, but there are still a number of places throughout the country to view wildlife in their natural habitats.
To fully appreciate the wildlife throughout the country, you’ll need to escape the city and travel to the harder-to-reach wilderness preserves, parks and mountainous areas. Breaking Morocco into regions is the best way to visit and appreciate the array of wildlife.
Coastal cities such as Casablanca and Tangier are rampant in marine life, and dolphins, porpoises and sea birds flock to the shores. The Mediterranean monk seal used to be plentiful on the banks of the coast but now they are endangered. White-eyed gulls can be spotted, though in decreasing numbers. If you’d like to support the wildlife on the coast, visit Souss-Massa National Park, which is a refuge for birds. The bald ibis—a beautiful but endangered bird—is a frequent visitor. Birdwatchers from around the world come to this natural reserve to view them.
The desert is home to a completely different variety of wildlife. The Erg Chigaga Sahara Desert can be a harsh place to live, yet humans and animals have survived and thrived here for centuries. Rodents, snakes, gerbils, jerboas, golden jackals, Cuvier’s gazelle, the addax and lizards all live in the desert. The horned viper is one of the most striking yet dangerous snakes you might encounter on a camel trekking tour through the Sahara. In the desert, animals follow the rain and other sources of water, so taking a white water rafting tour that runs toward the desert can be an excellent opportunity to spot wildlife.
During the time of the Romans, the Barbary lion roamed freely throughout the Atlas and Rif Mountains. Today, it is nearly extinct except for a couple small breeding programs. The Parc Zoologique National in Rabat has a breeding program for the lion to help increase the population. Overhunting and the loss of mountain space has limited the lion’s ability to survive.
The mountains do still provide a place for the Barbary Macaque to live. They are endangered due to deforestation and hunting, and they can be difficult to spot, but if you go on a Atlas trekking tour and spend the night, chances are you will hear them even if you cannot see them. Eagles, cardinals and butterflies also inhabit the forests. They can be easier to spot than the primates and are equally rewarding to see in the wild.
Regardless of where you travel in Morocco to view wildlife, be respectful of the needs of the animals. If you are interested in helping to preserve the natural wilderness and wildlife in Morocco, tread lightly but know that your visit supports the country’s efforts to protect its environment and natural space.
Posted by JoAnna Haugen, managing editor at Journey Beyond Travel and author of Kaleidoscopic Wandering.
Photo by sedeer.