Tree-Climbing Goats Are Helping Save Lives in Morocco at Their Own Peril

“They can climb trees and even mountains, and they’re really good at it. Some of my guests refer to them as flying goats. They want to see them because there’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world,” said Marrakech-based tour guide Mohamed Elaamrani.

But he also admitted that Morocco’s so-called flying or tree-climbing goats were trained to do it to amuse tourists who are often generous in giving tips to the goat-owners.

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Tree-climbing is actually instinctual among many goats in Morocco. The animals are fond of the pulpy fruits of the argan trees that they are often seen on top of branches of.

But, due to the severe drought in the region, and having observed that tree-climbing goats are such a great attraction to tourists, many farmers have turned to such goat-display to earn an income.

Animal welfare groups, however, are criticizing Morocco for allowing this type of activity.

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“These animals are being manipulated and exploited,” said Liz Cabrera Holtz, Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection, a UK-based global nonprofit organization. “They’re not moving freely. They don’t have access to food, water, or even shade. Being forced to stay in trees for hours is not a normal behavior.”

Nonetheless, many farmers feel they have no other choice, like A Miloud Banaaddi, who said, “The goats are only in the trees for three to four hours at a time. Imagine if I kept them inside the house — they’d be imprisoned and would go hungry. Where would the money come from to feed them? There is nothing else to do. There are no jobs. There are no other solutions. This is the only one.”

He further explained why many breadwinners like him have given up farming, “This should all be green by now, but you can see that it’s completely dry. We didn’t have to spend money on feeding the goats before— they had food everywhere.”

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Daniel Bergin, associate director at Globescan, a sustainability consulting firm that has studied animal welfare in Morocco, feels more sympathy toward the desperate farmers. “Obviously, you can’t just take away somebody’s livelihood. There needs to be a system in place. The government needs to work with the people.”

He cited a case in India where dancing bear cubs used to be the source of income for some families. But the government intervened and ordered the activities to stop. At the same time, they helped the families involved to get jobs in animal sanctuaries.

Bergin commented, “It did at least involve the people who would have been out of a livelihood and allow them to continue working while improving the lives of the animals.”

At the moment, it is not certain if the Moroccan government will follow suit.

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