Preserving Moroccan forests need not endanger Barbary macaques

The Moroccan government wants to move the largest remaining population of Barbary macaques because they are stripping bark off cedars, which can kill the trees. But this plan would endanger these monkeys needlessly: there is a way to help the cedars without harming the macaques, according to new research in the February issue of Conservation Biology.

"This is a battle for conservation -- if the macaques are moved, they are destined to complete extinction," says Andrea Camperio Ciani of the University of Padova in Italy.

Morocco's Middle Atlas cedar forest is the last suitable habitat for the Barbary macaque, which is listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union; roughly 10,000 of the 25-pound monkeys live there. The forest has been undergoing desertification due primarily to overgrazing, wood cutting and, in the last decade, drought. Recently, the forest's degradation has been exacerbated by a dramatic increase the macaques' cedar bark stripping.

The Moroccan Department of Waters and Forests blames this severe bark stripping on what it believes is an increase in the macaque's population density. Accordingly, Moroccan authorities plan to capture and move macaques to habitat without cedars. However, the macaques need cedars: the monkeys flee up these tall trees when attacked by dogs or jackals, and eat young cedar leaves during the winter when snow covers the undergrowth where they usually forage.

Camperio Ciani and his colleagues question this plan for two reasons. First, mass relocation would probably kill many of the macaques. Second, the researchers disagree with the basic assumption underlying the plan: they have determined that far from increasing, the density of the macaque population has actually decreased by about 40% in the last 20 years.

The belief that the macaques are increasing is based on the fact that more of them are seen along roads and in core a

Contact: Andrea Camperio Ciani
Society for Conservation Biology

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