Tourists in Morocco pose a threat to an endangered species of monkey

Posted on June 28, 2011

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Can you believe it’s almost July? Where on earth has the last six months gone? Soon schools will be breaking up and families will be descending on the airports in their droves for their summer getaway. While every government welcomes tourism and the money it can generate for the country; especially in these difficult economic times – there are some concerns about how visitors behave – especially from conservationists.

A Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus)

Tourists going to see an endangered species of monkey in Morocco could be threatening their survival. Scientists at Roehampton University have found that Barbary macaques’  (Macaca sylvanus) stress levels increase when people get too close to them in the wild.

The research led by Ms Laëtitia Maréchal and Dr Stuart Semple found the monkeys’ stress levels were directly correlated to how people behaved while in their territory. Anxiety was measure by how frequently the monkeys scratched themselves (self-directed behaviour) and this was seen to increase when people took photographs or were talking.

Researchers also examined the animals’ faeces for stress hormones but found that only aggressive human behaviour, which can happen when people are feeding the monkeys, elicited a physiological response.

Ms Laëtitia Maréchal said: “Our findings are of particular concern as stressed monkeys are more vulnerable to disease, and their reproduction can also be affected. The Barbary macaque has recently been declared an endangered species, and with as few as 6000 left in the wild, anything that threatens those that remain is a real worry.”

Barbary macaque 100 km south of Algiers eating a peanut and cake given by tourists.

These primates are found mainly in the mountainous regions of Algeria and Morocco and while there is some cause for concern from the results of this study, there are still benefits to eco-tourism. The authors say stricter guidelines should be implemented if people want to enjoy the wildlife in its natural surroundings.

Dr Semple added: “There should be guidelines like banning people from feeding animals and making sure they stay back a certain distance.

“That way you’re going to make the experience less negative for animals and evidence shows that leads to a better experience for tourists too.

“Primate tourism is a fast-growing business with huge potential conservation benefits, generating local income and providing an economic incentive to protect animals and their habitats.

“Research like ours highlights the importance of understanding the impact of tourist behaviour, so that we can ensure the experience is a good one both for the visitors and the animals.”

So if you are going to visit the local wildlife this summer spare a thought for the animals, they don’t like being “papped” any more than we do.

Notes:

The study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, is part of an ongoing international research project involving researchers from the University of Roehampton, Lincoln University and the Ecole Nationale Forestière d’Ingénieurs in Morocco.

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