Rabat - A new study has found that many animals in Moroccan markets are treated poorly due to vendors’ unawareness and lack of enforcement of existing law.
Rabat – A new study has found that many animals in Moroccan markets are treated poorly due to vendors’ unawareness and lack of enforcement of existing law.
Daniel Bergin, a researcher from Oxford Brookes University, conducted the study focusing on wildlife trade in Morocco. Bergin and his team visited wildlife markets in six of Morocco’s largest cities: Rabat, Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, Tangier, and Meknes.
The research study assessed the welfare of a total of 2,113 animals seen in Moroccan markets “based on four of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee Five Freedoms: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from distress.”
The study’s highlights were published on August 24 by Mongabay, which reports on conservation and environmental issues.
At least one endangered animal is available for sale in Morocco: the Barbary macaque (macaca sylvanus) which costs around $500. Another “threatened” species, the spur-thighed tortoise (testudo graeca) is sold at about $1. North African hedgehogs (atelerix algirus), Mediterranean chameleons (chamaeleo chamaeleon), and Egyptian cobras (naja haje) are also on sale in Morocco’s wildlife markets.
According to Bergin’s study, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, over 88 percent of the examined 2,113 animals were kept in situations which violated the four above-mentioned freedoms and only 9 animals were in a good situation. The study found that captive wild animals on sale or used for entertainment suffer from “universally poor” conditions.
The study was conducted across 48 shops including 61 enclosures for animals. Of the 2,113 animals, however, 94 percent were spur-thighed tortoises; only 127 were not tortoises.
“Tortoises were often piled together in such a way that they could not all touch the ground and we once found a sack full of tortoises that had seemingly been abandoned in the corner of a market. The tortoises were desperately trying to get free, but there seemed to be no immediate intention to move them, even to put them in crates,” said Bergin.
“Baby monkeys were picked up and carried by a chain that was fixed around their neck even though it clearly caused them a lot of pain and distress,” he added.
The animals lacked access to food and water and were not able to hide from stressors, left exposed to direct sun and heat.
“These animals were dying slow, painful deaths, totally unnecessarily,” said Bergin. The phenomenon disturbed much of his team.
Vendors’ lack of awareness of animals’ needs and health led them to keep the animals in poor conditions.
“Vendors often incorrectly said that tortoises do not need to drink water, or that chameleons only eat mint leaves (they actually eat insects and cannot survive on a diet of only leaves),” Bergin said.
The researcher, nevertheless, believed that the vendors “did not want to intentionally hurt the animals, but they need to have a better understanding of how to keep them in good health.”
Laws on wildlife trade not applied
Although Morocco is a member of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), an intergovernmental organization responsible for globally improving animal health and welfare, the North African country’s laws “do not reflect the commitment of the government to animal welfare,” Bergin explained.
According to Bergin’s research, 1,970 of the 2,113 captive wild animals for sale were illegal to sell in Morocco.
“Despite the illegality of this trade, no attempt is made to hide any animals, as repercussions from new laws are clearly not enough to act as a deterrent due to a lack of enforcement,” the researcher said.
According to the study, the poor welfare conditions which captive wild animals experience “would be in breach of the Moroccan proposed law 122–12 as the conditions are not suitable for the biological needs of these animals.”
In 2013, the Moroccan government proposed a draft law prohibiting the mistreatment or abuse of animals in captivity, with fines of up to MAD 20,000. However, the draft law has not been enacted yet. Article 14 of the law stipulates that animals must be kept in conditions suitable to the biological requirements of their species.
If the law were enacted, it would allow Moroccan authorities to stop the widespread mistreatment of animals in wildlife markets, Bergin claimed.
“Simple improvements in housing and care such as access to water and shade would greatly improve the animals’ quality of life and decrease their mortality rate and would therefore benefit both animals and traders,” he said.
Bergin said the welfare of animals was neglected in Moroccan laws, and he stressed the need to include a provision to that affect in laws.
“During the standard rewriting of these laws, the welfare aspect was quietly dropped from consideration and appears never to have resurfaced. We believe that by drawing attention to this important provision again, we can bring animal welfare back to the discussion.”
Bergin and his team called on the Moroccan government to fulfill its commitment to establish welfare laws for captive wild animals and devote resources to the application of the existing laws.