The secrets behind Morocco’s tree-climbing goats

Ama Nunoo Feb 11, 2020 at 11:00am

February 11, 2020 at 11:00 am | Opinions & Features, We Tour

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

February 11, 2020 at 11:00 am | Opinions & Features, We Tour

Photo: Wiedzoholik /Annabelle Chavez

A trip to southern Morocco is made more of a spectacle because of a very interesting tourist attraction by the highway.

On the drive, one is likely to come by goats perched on trees and there is an interesting twist to this tourist attraction and the local farmers.

On the surface, one can see the goats climbing the Argania spinosa commonly known as the argan tree. There is an abundance of the argan tree in the Souss Massa Draa region outside Marrakech, an area very popular with tourists.

Whereas humans don’t benefit from the fruits, goats relish the pulpy fruits that cover the tough outer skin.

Goats on Trees 2
Many tourists cannot wait to take photos of these goats on the tree. Photo: Culture Trip

Naturally, the goats consume the low-lying fruits hanging on the tree and when they are done, they attempt reaching for the higher ones, hence they climb the tree to have a go at the higher ones.

This is when local farmers sometimes interfere with this natural phenomenon. The first is, humans may not need the pulpy part of the fruit but its seeds.

Argan oil is derived from the nuts and it is an essential oil that is in high demand the world over.

When the goats consume the fruits, they excrete the seeds used for the oil and the farmers collect them for argan oil to meet the high demand on the market.

However, this is not the most efficient way to peel the seeds and it cannot meet the market demand for mass scale oil production. Other methods have been adopted for harvesting the seeds. In some parts of Morocco, women harvest argan oil by hand, which is said to be “more ethical and environmentally friendly.”

There have been photographs of goats in trees in most Moroccan guidebooks and on social media and many tourists look forward to taking a photo of this spectacle.

According to The Telegraph, an investigation by British environmentalist photographer Aaron Gekoski revealed the harrowing experience of these goats beyond their natural ability to stay atop the trees to feed and the role of local farmers.

opportunistic farmers brought goats in from other areas and forced them into the trees before charging travellers
Farmers brought goats in from other areas and forced them into the trees before charging travellers Photo: AARON GEKOSKI / CATERS NEWS

The photographer found out that local farmers actually bring goats from other parts of town and force them onto the trees and then charge tourists who want to take photographs of the goats in the trees.

The goats eventually get tired at a point and the farmers do well to replace them with a new set of goats.

Gekoski said, “after seeing tourists’ interest in the tree-dwelling goats, some opportunistic farmers decide to manipulate the situation for financial gain.

“I heard they even brought goats in from other areas, built platforms in the trees and now cajole the goats into the trees, charging tourists to take photographs.

“They will take the goats home in the late afternoon, before coaxing them back into the trees at sunrise.

Campaigners claim an iconic tourist photo destination where dozens of goats perch in trees has been uncovered as an exploitative scam.
Iconic tourist photo destination where dozens of goats perch in trees has been uncovered as an exploitative scam. Photo: AARON GEKOSKI / CATERS NEWS

“The goats are incredibly nimble and dextrous when it comes to navigating the trees, though generally they just stand in one place, looking rather sick and forlorn.

“All the tourists who visited seemed blissfully unaware though and ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ before taking photos and selfies.”

This Moroccan investigation was part of Geloski’s works to end cruel wildlife tourist attractions. The acclaimed environmental television host continued saying,

“The goats are often rotated halfway through the day as they get tired. It’s incredibly hot work standing in a tree all day and generally the goats are in poor condition and very skinny. There were also almost no older goats, which I heard get eaten.

“The farmers will also hand over young goats, known as kids, for photo opportunities in front of the trees.

The practice of keeping the goats on the trees is not only harmful to the animals but poses a long-term problem for the trees as well.

“Also, having so many goats in one place threatens the sustainability of the trees as their hooves damage the branches,” he said.

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