Barbary Macaques Could Gain Protection from Pet Trade

The barbary macaque is the most frequently seized, live, CITES-listed mammal in the European Union. Ever heard of it? It’s a monkey found in Gibraltar and the northern African countries of Morocco and Algeria—the only primate (besides humans) that lives north of the Sahara and the only macaque found outside of Asia.

Here at CITES CoP17, proposals related to iconic species like elephants and rhinos have garnered much of the attention, but the barbary macaque could be one of the feel-good stories of the convention because the proposal relating to it isn’t likely to be controversial.

With its ginger coat and large, intelligent eyes, lots of people want them as pets. About 200 barbary macaques—mostly infants—are captured and smuggled out of Morocco each year for the growing European pet trade. Some 3,000 are estimated to be held as pets in Italy, Spain, France, and elsewhere. That’s bad news for a species whose population has dropped by about 50 to 60 percent in the last 30 years. Only about 6,500 to 9,100 remain in the wild, where they act as seed dispersers, critical for maintaining forest composition. They don’t do well as pets; they’re prone to stereotypic behaviors such as self-biting and chewing, and they can become aggressive as they age, leading some owners to abandon them.

For these reasons the European Union and Morocco submitted a proposal for this year’s CoP to ban the commercial trade in barbary macaques. Their trade is already restricted by CITES and protected by national laws in Morocco and Algeria, but an Appendix I listing would make it easier to enforce harsher penalties for capturing and trading the monkeys, according to Raquel Garcia, head of public policy at Animal Advocacy and Protection, a Netherlands-based nonprofit group that rescues and advocates for barbary macaques and other animals.

“Morocco is really, really aware that this is a problem,” Garcia said on Sunday when I caught up with her at the CoP in Johannesburg. She says the proposal has been 15 years in the making and that “it’s finally coming together.”

My colleague Rachael Bale and I will be tracking the proposal throughout the convention, so stay tuned to learn the details of the debate and find out how the parties vote.