The Macaque Encounter
A Lesson in the Beauty and Fragility of the Natural World

M’barek Ismaili Alaoui

© Copyright 2023 by
M’barek Ismaili Alaoui

Image by Heike from Pixabay
Image by Heike from Pixabay

As a wildlife enthusiast, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit some places in Morocco, and experience the country's unique ecosystems and animal life. I had always been fascinated by the desert landscapes and the incredible adaptations of animals living in such harsh environments.

During my travels, I had several encounters with wild animals, but one stood out above the rest. It was a warm afternoon in Azrou, a small city in Morocco, and I was hiking along a rugged trail that snaked through a rocky canyon. The scenery was breath-taking, with towering cliffs on either side and the sound of a nearby river echoing through the canyon.

As I rounded a bend in the trail, I spotted a small group of Barbary macaques perched on the rocks above me. These primates are native to North Africa and are known for their distinctive appearance, with thick fur and a characteristic "beard."

At first, I was cautious not to get too close, as I knew that these animals could be unpredictable and even aggressive in certain situations. But as I watched them from a safe distance, I was struck by their playful antics and curious nature.

One particularly bold macaque caught my eye, and I couldn't help but feel a connection to this intelligent and curious creature. As I watched, it suddenly scampered down from its perch and began to approach me, its bright eyes fixed on mine.

I was both excited and nervous as the macaque drew closer, its movements fluid and graceful. It seemed to be studying me, its small hands reaching out as if to touch me.

For a moment, we simply looked at each other, and I felt a sense of kinship with this wild animal. In that moment, I realized that we are all part of the same intricate web of life, and that our actions as humans have a profound impact on the natural world.

As the macaque approached, I couldn't help but feel a sense of wonder and awe. This was an animal that had evolved to survive in one of the harshest environments on the planet, and yet it was still capable of displaying such curiosity and playfulness.

As I watched, the macaque suddenly leapt onto my backpack, its small hands digging into the fabric as it clambered up to my shoulder. I could feel its weight pressing against me, and I could hear its rapid breaths in my ear.

For a moment, I froze, unsure of what to do. But then, as if sensing my hesitation, the macaque reached out and gently stroked my cheek with one hand.

Eventually, the macaque lost interest in me and scampered back up the rocks to join its troop. As I continued my hike, I couldn't help but feel grateful for this encounter and the lessons it had taught me.

It was an incredible moment, one that I will never forget. I felt a deep connection to this wild animal, and I knew that I had been granted a rare and special privilege to share in its world, if only for a few fleeting moments. I realized that we humans are not the only beings on this planet with thoughts, feelings, and desires. We share this world with an incredible array of creatures, each with its own unique story and place in the natural world.

Throughout many of my travels in my native country, Morocco, I made a conscious effort to be more mindful of my impact on the environment and to support local conservation efforts wherever possible. And although I may or may not see that particular macaque again, the memory of our encounter will stay with me always, a symbol of the beauty and fragility of the natural world.

As I approached the river, I saw a flash of brown fur and realized I was not alone. A group of Barbary macaques, also known as Barbary apes, were playing and foraging along the riverbank. I stopped and watched them for a few moments, marveling at their human-like expressions and movements.

As I continued walking, I saw a lone macaque sitting on a rock, looking out over the water. Its gaze was fixed on something in the distance, and I followed its line of sight to see what had caught its attention. There, in the middle of the river, was a large Nile crocodile, basking in the sun.

I was amazed and a little nervous to see such a dangerous predator so close to the shore. The macaque seemed unperturbed, however, and continued to watch the crocodile intently. As I stood there, a group of tourists approached, and the macaque leaped down from its perch and ran off into the trees.

I continued on my walk, but I couldn't shake the image of the macaque watching the crocodile. It was a powerful reminder of the delicate balance of nature and the constant struggle for survival in the animal kingdom.

Later that day, as I was sitting in a café in the medina, I struck up a conversation with a local man who worked as a tour guide. When I mentioned the macaques I had seen by the river, his face lit up.

"Oh yes, the Barbary apes," he said. "They are quite common in this area. In fact, there is a whole troop that lives in the nearby forest."

He went on to tell me more about the macaques and their role in the Atlas culture and folklore. They are considered a symbol of good luck and are often featured in traditional music and dance performances.

As I listened to the man's stories, I felt a deeper connection to the animals I had encountered that day. They were not just exotic creatures to be admired from a distance, but a vital part of the ecosystem and culture of this beautiful country.

In the following days, I made a point to seek out more wildlife encounters in Morocco, from the colorful birds of the High Atlas Mountains to the elusive sand cats of the Sahara. Each encounter left me with a greater appreciation for the natural world and the incredible diversity of life that exists on our planet.

Looking back on my trip to Azrou, it is the moments spent in the company of wild animals that stand out the most. They are a reminder that we are not alone on this earth and that we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the habitats and creatures that make it so special.

The monkey seemed to be examining me just as much as I was examining him. Suddenly, it lunged forward, snatched the date out of my hand, and bounded away before I could even react.

I was left standing there, with my empty hand outstretched, feeling equal parts surprised and amused. I had never experienced anything like that before.

Over the course of the next few days, I encountered many more wild animals in Morocco. I saw goats perched precariously on the branches of argan trees, chameleons blending into the foliage, and snakes slithering across the dusty ground.

But it was that encounter with the monkey that stuck with me the most. It made me realize that even in a foreign land, surrounded by unfamiliar sights and sounds, there is something magical about encountering a wild animal. It's a reminder of the beauty and unpredictability of nature, and the importance of respecting and protecting the creatures that inhabit our world.

As I continued my travels throughout Morocco, I couldn't help but keep my eyes peeled for more wildlife sightings. One day, while exploring the souks of Marrakech, I stumbled upon a small shop that was home to an array of exotic birds. I approached the cage that held a bright green parrot and struck up a conversation with the shopkeeper about the bird's origins.

To my surprise, he told me that the parrot had been rescued from a poacher who had been illegally selling wildlife. The shopkeeper had taken in the bird and nursed it back to health. He explained that unfortunately, the poaching of birds and other animals was all too common in Morocco, and that many species were endangered as a result.

This encounter left me feeling a mix of emotions - grateful for the work that people like the shopkeeper were doing to help protect animals, but also saddened by the reality of poaching and habitat destruction that threatened so many species.

Despite this, I still felt a sense of wonder and excitement whenever I spotted a wild animal during my travels. I saw flocks of colorful flamingos wading in the waters off the coast of Essaouira, and a majestic herd of gazelles grazing in the Atlas Mountains.

One of my most memorable animal encounters occurred during a trek through the Sahara Desert. As I trudged through the seemingly endless expanse of sand, I suddenly spotted a small group of camels in the distance. As I drew nearer, I could see that they were being tended to by a group of Berber nomads.

I approached the nomads and asked if I could take a closer look at the camels. They welcomed me warmly, and I spent the next few hours chatting with them about their way of life and admiring the unique beauty of the camels. I was struck by the nomads' deep connection to their animals, and their respect for the harsh environment in which they lived.

As my travels in Morocco came to a close, I found myself reflecting on the many animal encounters I had experienced. Each one had taught me something new about the natural world and had left me with a deeper appreciation for the wonders of nature.

And though I knew that the threats facing many of these species were very real, I also felt hopeful. It reminded me of the importance of respecting and protecting the natural world, and of the incredible diversity of life that exists all around us, even in the most unexpected places so that future generations can continue to experience the wonder and beauty of the natural world.

Through the efforts of people like the shopkeeper in Marrakech and the Berber nomads in the Sahara, there was still a chance to protect these magnificent creatures and ensure that they continue to roam the earth for generations to come.


M’barek Ismaili Alaoui is a freelance writer from Meknes, Morocco. He holds a Master’s degree in Multilingual and Interdisciplinary Translation from Moulay Ismail University, and a Bachelor's degree in English Language Studies and Culture ( Linguistics option) from the University of Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah University. He has a passion for nature and wildlife conservation. Though he has been writing professionally for over three years, this is M’barek 's first submission to the Preservation Foundation Contest. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, birdwatching, and exploring national parks. M’barek hopes to use his writing to educate others about the importance of preserving our natural world for future generations.

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