I am not one for easy tears. I have my tools to deal with animal exploitation because of the work I do, but this time the reality has caught me unarmed.

I arrived very early to Marrakech and more specifically to the Jamaa el Fna square. I did not think that at half past eight in the morning I would find, first, a terrified baby macaque while the man who was exploiting it was grabbing it by the arm, dressing it in rags. I'll never forget that face, that expression...

Marrakech is a city known for its famous souk, a labyrinth of streets flooded with commerce and tourists. A place where, among so many objects, smells, noises and human beings, animals could not be missing.

Monkeys, chameleons, turtles, squirrels, snakes, camels, donkeys, horses, goldfinches, hens, roosters, ducks, partridges, rabbits, fish, snails, dogs, and cats are some of the exploited animals that you can find in this city.

Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View
Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View

The square of the slaves

In the famous spice square, I came across aviaries and small cages housing chameleons, turtles and squirrels. The people who trade with them let you know that they are wild animals and that they "come from the wonderful Atlas Mountains". Taken from their natural homes, they are sold to the highest bidder in a square that 300 years ago was known as "the slave square". Paradoxical, isn't it? 

Here I could also see live snails that, as an added attraction for tourists, are sold at some night food stalls in the Jamaa el Fna square.

Along the narrow streets of the Medina, I found donkeys in terrible health. Surrounded by noise and hundreds of tourists, these animals go all day long from one place to another carrying all kinds of materials, from skins of other dead animals to stones and beams for construction. When their owners have nothing to transport, they can be seen sleeping on top of the wagons while the animal is still standing. Hopefully it will be under some shade while waiting for the next load.

While I was getting lost in this area of the city, without knowing how, I arrived at the market of animals for "consumption": mainly roosters, partridges, ducks, rabbits, and chickens. Locked in cages, they wait for the moment when some local or visitor takes them away, or in some cases and especially with the birds, to be executed and then put through a machine to pluck them and leave them "ready" for the kitchens and restaurants in the area.

It's easy to get duped by someone who takes you to the tannery neighborhood, one of the most touristic places in the city. A veritable olfactory Dante's hell where men are engaged in cleaning the freshly skinned skin of animals. In the cement tubs, skins of cows, sheep, camels, and goats are mixed with remains of meat, feces and chemicals. The smell will tear you apart if you are daring enough to take your nose out of the mint bouquet you are given as soon as you enter.

Day and night

The Jamaa el Fna square, the nerve center of the city, is awake all day but at dawn, when you hardly see people around, the long line of buggies (horse-drawn carriages used expressly by tourists), does not leave you indifferent. Hundreds of horses that travel around the city in long working days show clear signs of exhaustion, as well as wounds, marks and wear and tear. At this point I was also not surprised to see how some of them have their legs tied together with small ropes that barely allow them to take a stride. In some cases the horses faint in these waiting places.

Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View

This square is also known for the monkeys and snakes that are exhibited there. Monkeys are usually there from nine o'clock in the morning. It is common to see men preparing them in full view of passers-by; at other times you will only hear screams without knowing where they come from, although you can see how they take one from among the fruit stalls.

They usually gather in two or three groups of three to four individuals each. In this way they are more efficient looking for tourists, and watching those who dare to take pictures without paying. In this case, they did not hesitate to aggressively rebuke me. 

When you observe the small macaques, their most recognizable gesture is how they grab the chain near their neck to try to restrain their exploiter when he forces them to move, walk, jump, or run. Some of them are reluctant to climb on the tourists when it is time to have their picture taken. Their expressions are of fear and in some cases of real panic.

These little slaves are subjected to working days that go from nine in the morning until late at night, ten or even eleven. It is surprising that there are tourists who want to take pictures at these hours, but there are.

Many monkeys wear diapers because they are babies, and to prevent them from urinating or defecating on tourists. The number of macaques used throughout the day can vary from two to three per person. In their stalls they have small wooden structures at three heights and with three small boxes in which they keep them while waiting for their turn to perform. They are usually in the sun all day long and the animals barely have a hole with bars through which they can breathe and air themselves.

Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View
Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View

With the snakes, it is not so much about taking a picture with the animal. Here the attraction is the photo with the "charmer", so the purpose of the exploitation is different. Most of these animals are on alert not because they are "charmed" by the sound of a flute, but because they have been trained to go into a defensive position when they have someone in front of them playing the instrument. I could see dozens of snakes along the square, many tucked into baskets, and others carried in hand as if they were shopping bags.

These monkeys and snakes, like the animals found in the slave square, are kidnapped from the Atlas Mountains.

Animal exploitation can also be seen in the perimeters of Marrakech, where tourists do not miss the opportunity to take a camel ride. A visit to the palm grove and the Menara gardens includes seen tied camels in pitiful physical condition waiting for the tourists, starving stray dogs in unsanitary conditions and fish in artificial waters.

On the coast

Essaouira is another of the Moroccan jewels for tourists, a coastal city, a lure for surfers and retirees where, for its beauty and tranquility, one might think that there the tourist is not responsible for any exploitation of animals. But its not a jewel for the animals.

Its immense beach, the main attraction of the city, has many camels and horses, in groups or alone, waiting for tourists. The horses are tied to huge stones, and the camels between them or between their own legs. These animals are not spared from long days of work, with no tree or palm tree to shelter them from the harshness of the high temperatures, especially in the case of the horses, much less resistant to these conditions than the camels. I could also see, in the upper part of the beach, how packs of stray dogs are grouped together in a deplorable situation.

The exploitation of fish in Essaouira is also remarkable. Being a coastal city, it has a large port, and it is easy to see how tourism has generated new dynamics in the city. Dozens of stalls at the entrance offer "fresh" fish to eat or sell the fish to local tourists who cook these animals in a way that is much sought after and appreciated by visitors.

In Essaouira, the presence of cats is greater than in Marrakech. Both cities are full of these small felines in streets, alleys, gardens, and stores, and apparently you may have the illusion that here, the cat is an appreciated and cared for animal, as you see food and water in many places. Scratching a little you will know that it is not so. This animal is used as a tourist attraction, besides being an animal that keeps the streets "clean" of rats and mice. It is very common to see tourists petting baby cats, but the reality is that in these cities you will never see an adult cat. These animals here are no more than two years old and that's saying a lot.

Responsible travel should be a lesson learned in a globalized world like ours. This small mapping of animal exploitation in two cities so claimed by tourism is a small sample of the great responsibility we have that these animals suffer so much pain and exploitation. Human enjoyment should never be a claim that involves the suffering of other species.

Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View

Work by Eira Do Val.

Published in March 2023