barbary macaque in the wild
Barbary macaque in the wild

Born to be wild

Project to ensure the survival of the
endangered Barbary macaque


The Barbary macaque is close to extinction. Today there are about 10,000 Barbary macaques living in the wild (in Morocco and Algeria). But in 1977 the population was 23,000. Baby Barbary macaques are stolen from the wild by poachers and then illegally traded. They end up as pets or tourist attractions. Furthermore, the natural habitat of the Barbary macaque is rapidly being destroyed. So, it’s time for action. Because we cannot allow the Barbary macaque to become extinct!

The animals are Born to be Wild.

smokkelroutes berberaap

Born to be Wild

Born to be Wild is an international collaborative project which aims to secure the survival of the Barbary macaque. AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection leads the project, working in close collaboration with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and other organisations. Born to be Wild addresses three key areas:


- Stop poaching of young Barbary macaques
- Prevent smuggling of animals to mainland Europe
- Provide (emergency) shelter for confiscated Barbary macaques


- Involve the Moroccan authorities and public in protecting the Barbary macaques
- Facilitate the monitoring, enforcement and criminal prosecution of smuggling and illegal trade

Make it sustainable:

- Protect the habitat of the Barbary macaque and facilitate its restoration
- Set up a framework and business model to sustainably finance the activities in Morocco

Read how we will tackle these areas in detail.

Berberaap in Ifrane National Park

International Fund for Animal WelfareCollaboration

AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection leads the project, working in close collaboration with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). IFAW organises all activities in Morocco. AAP and IFAW also have various partners, the most important of which are:

  • Moroccan authorities (national, regional and local)
  • Spanish authorities (national, regional and local)
  • Eurogroup for Animals (Brussels)
  • Asociación Nacional para la Defensa de los Animales (ANDA, Spain)
  • Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV, Italy)
  • Travel organization TUI (Europe)
  • All for Nature (Netherlands)



National Postcode LotteryMogelijk gemaakt door de deelnemers van de Postcode Loterij

The Born to be Wild project would not have been possible without the enormous support of the participants of the Dutch Postcode Lottery. AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection received over € 1.3 million euro's from the Dutch Postcode Lottery in 2017 to realise this project to protect the Barbary macaque.


    The problem

    The biggest threats to the Barbary macaque are poaching, illegal trade and the destruction of its habitat. If these activities continue, they will inevitably lead to the disappearance of the largest population of Barbary macaques in the world, which can be found in the Middle Atlas mountain range. The disappearance of this population could mean the loss of the entire species within 15 to 20 years.

    Proaching and illegal trade

    • Every year hundreds of Barbary macaques are poached.
    • Most of the poached Barbary macaques are illegally traded to Europe, where they end up as pets or as 'photo props' for tourists to pose with.
    • Most of the animals confiscated in Europe have been sedated and then smuggled in a suitcase, in a bag or under a seat. Although the actual number of animals that don’t survive this ordeal is not known, it is a fact that the mortality rate among illegally smuggled animals is high.
    • The Barbary macaque is the most frequently seized endangered mammal in the European Union and the most common species of primate brought to AAP for shelter.

    Habitat destruction

    • The last Barbary macaques live in fragmented areas in the north of Algeria and in Morocco. About 70% of them live in the forests of the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco.
    • Habitat destruction is a result of climate change, overgrazing, illegal logging and production of charcoal.

    Berberaap op de markt in Marokko

    What has been achieved?

    In recent years, AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection has worked hard to protect the Barbary macaque. These are the most important results:

    Highest protection status for the Barbarcy macaque

    At the international conference on trade in endangered plant and animal species (CITES) in Johannesburg in October 2016, it was decided to give the Barbary macaque the highest protection status. Thanks, in part, to the 25,000 signatures of animal lovers, AAP was able to increase pressure on the European Union to increase the protection status of the Barbary macaque. And it worked! The Moroccan government also supports this decision. The highest protection status means that the penalty for poaching and illegal trading of Barbary macaques has become more severe. Enforcement has also been improved.

    The trade in Barbary macaques was already illegal and offenders should have been penalised. But this was not always the case. As a result, dealers still took the risk of selling Barbary macaques, especially as a Barbary macaque can be worth 2,000 euro's in Europe.

    Scouts protect Barbary macaques against poachers

    In 2015, in collaboration with Moroccan Primate Conservation (MPC), AAP created a team of 'community scouts'. These scouts protect the Barbary macaque against poachers in the Ifrane National Park, which is an important habitat of the Barbary macaque. They do this by, among other things, patrolling and placing hidden cameras. This approach has been successful: since the scouts have been working in this area, there have been no known cases of poaching!

    Rescue and shelter for Barbary macaques in need

    In addition to tackling the causes of the problem, the rescue and shelter of Barbary macaques in need continues unabated. Over the past 15 years, AAP has taken in 228 Barbary macaques to their rescue centres in Almere (Netherlands) and Villena (Spain). These animals have been illegally smuggled into Europe and forced to perform tricks or kept as pets.

    Official launch of scouts team in Ifrane National Park

    On 21 March 2018, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and AAP, in close collaboration with the Moroccan High Commission for Water and Forests and the Fight against Desertification (HCEFLCD), officially launched a new team of scouts to combat the poaching of Barbary macaques and protect their habitat. 

    Scouts patrouilleren in leefgebied van de berberaap
    Scouts voorkomen nieuwe gevallen van stroperij.

    Scouts patrouilleren in leefgebied van de berberaap


    What will be achieved in the future?

    To protect the Barbary Macaque, we need to tackle the problems at their roots. We have therefore adopted a local approach to stop poaching, illegal trade and the further decline of habitat. We do this by protecting, anchoring and making it sustainable. It is estimated that it will take three years to complete the project. This is what we are going to do:


    • Expand successful patrols by community scouts

    The team of community scouts (see also: What has been achieved?) will be expanded from 7 to 13 scouts in the poaching season (May - October). The team will work in close cooperation with the local police to facilitate and support law enforcement. Every community scout is trained to use GPS devices, camera's and other technology needed to do the job. The number of hidden cameras to expose illegal activities is also being increased. Training sessions will be held every year for new and existing community scouts.

    • Rescue and rehabilitation in Morocco

    Animals that have a CITES status, such as the Barbary macaque, should be returned to the wild immediately after confiscation. If that is not possible, they should be housed in a suitable location that meets their psychological and physical needs. To achieve this in Morocco, contact has previously been established with zoo's in Rabat and Meknes. Also, facilities have been prepared and pilots have been carried out at these zoo's. Although the primary responsibility for the welfare of the confiscated animal lies with the Moroccan authorities, AAP and IFAW will support them with their expertise and network where necessary.

    • Enforcement processes in Spain and Italy

    In 2014, AAP Primadomus (the Spanish branch of AAP) signed a formal cooperation agreement with the Dirección General de Seguridad (responsible for Spanish police units) to improve enforcement in the fight against the smuggling of Barbary macaques. As part of this agreement a pilot study of law enforcement activities was carried out in Spain in 2015. The pilot resulted in increased awareness and improved knowledge among the relevant authorities, as well as the first confiscations of smuggled animals. This pilot is a good starting point for improvements in enforcement, both in Spain and Italy, which are the two main gateways for smuggling Barbary macaques into Europe.

    We will prepare and run several workshops and training courses specifically for customs officers and various enforcement personnel, aimed at recognising and stopping the illegal trade and smuggling of wild animals. The training will include topics such as trade routes, smuggling methods and legal knowledge about how to deal with confiscated animals and offenders.

    AAP and its partners will organise 10 training courses, 8 in Spain and 2 in Italy. Each course can be attended by up to 30 participants, mainly customs officers from ports and airports, tax police, environmental police and members of the official veterinary services.

    • Rescue and rehabilitation in Spain

    One of the main activities of AAP is to support law enforcement activities by providing shelter for confiscated animals. Within Europe, the Spanish branch of AAP (Primadomus) is primarily responsible for this work, while the Dutch branch of AAP in Almere acts as an overflow shelter. This shelter is not only for animals that are intercepted during smuggling but also for animals that are being kept illegally, having been traded on by smugglers.

    • Rescue and rehabilitation in Italy

    One of the smuggling routes goes to Italy. The number of confiscations is expected to grow initially due to increased awareness and the new law enforcement training programme. Suitable (emergency) shelter is available locally.

    Main expected results:

    - In 2019, the number of poached Barbary macaques in the Ifrane National Park will be reduced to a maximum of 5% of young animals (in 2013, this was 22%).
    - After an initial increase, the number of shelter requests for Barbary macaques in Europe (held illegally by traffickers or private individuals) will decrease from 2021 onwards.


    • Highest protection status for the Barbary macaque (this has been realised! See: What has been achieved?)

    • Information and education programme

    The aim of the education programme is to further raise awareness among the local population and tourists and to reduce demand for poached Barbary macaques. The programme consists of various activities and targets several different groups.

    • Increase capacity of law enforcement and the judicial system

    The aim is to increase the capacity of the enforcement authorities and customs officers. This will give them more time and manpower to detect and prevent the illegal trade and smuggling of Barbary macaques.

    • Increase capacity of law enforcement and the judicial system

    The aim is to increase the capacity of the enforcement authorities and customs officers. This will give them more time and manpower to detect and prevent the illegal trade and smuggling of Barbary macaques.

    Cooperation between Moroccan enforcement organizations is essential for successful detection and enforcement. To help achieve this, the DISRUPT (Detecting Illegal Species Through Prevention Training) programme is being implemented in collaboration with IFAW. The training will be attended by representatives from various Moroccan ministries, as well as representatives from the CITES office, Moroccan port service and customs authorities. DISRUPT consists of various training modules which provide information about recognising certain animal species, smuggling techniques, CITES rules, permits, and national legislation and regulations. There will be two national workshops and two local workshops, one in Tangier and one in Marrakech (which are both smuggling and trade hotspots), with at least 20 participants per workshop. The workshops will be provided by IFAW.

    As part of the DISRUPT programme, there is also a workshop to raise awareness among the key players in criminal prosecution, such as Moroccan magistrates and prosecutors. The workshop addresses the role they (can) play in combating illegal trade. At least one national workshop will be organised, attended by at least 20 participants. The workshop focuses on identifying and preventing weak spots in the investigation and sentencing process. The aim of the workshop is to ensure that criminal prosecution and convictions create a strong deterrent effect.

    • Monitoring illegal trade

    Monitoring the illegal trade of Barbary macaques is carried out by a new network of informants in four important trade hubs. The team regularly conducts research at markets, in shopping streets and other possible sales outlets. This research is intended to inform local authorities about incidents and to collect information about trade routes. Analysing these data provides a better insight into the dynamics of the trade routes and helps to better facilitate the enforcers in the fight against illegal trade.

    • Information collection and data analysis

    Information about the illegal trade of Barbary macaques is needed to be able to measure, evaluate and, where necessary, adjust the effectiveness of the deployed activities. This information can also be used to help roll out activities to protect Barbary macaques in Morocco and possibly Algeria or even to protect other animal species in other countries.

    The participating partners of Born to be Wild are each responsible for collecting their own data on poaching, smuggling and confiscations in Morocco, Italy and Spain. These data are then entered into a central database at AAP in the Netherlands, where they are easily accessible to all partners, stakeholders and other interested parties.

    Main expected results:

    - From 2019, monitoring and shelter numbers in Morocco are expected to show that fewer and fewer Barbary macaques are ending up at markets or in the hands of illegal traders.

    - From 2019, most of the reported incidents of poaching and smuggling of Barbary macaques in Morocco will result in criminal prosecution.

    Berberaapje slachtoffer van illegale handel


    • Ecotourism

    We will invest in ecotourism. By developing and promoting ecotourism, the economic value of a healthy ecosystem will become evident to local communities. The goal is to generate revenue with ecotourism with which the community scouts can be financed.


    • Reduce logging

    The native Berber tribes in the area have the right to settle in the Ifrane National Park and use the park’s natural resources. In the past we have distributed special cooking stoves to help reduce deforestation and the unsustainable use of wood. We are considering whether we should continue this practice or think of other useful ways to limit deforestation.

    • Support the construction of forest corridors

    Due to unsustainable use and climate change, vital parts of the forest in the Ifrane National Park have become isolated from one another. With the right measures, the damage to the forest can be reversed. This will allow the Barbary macaques to migrate between groups and the forest will be better able to cope with the drier conditions that are predicted. The construction of corridors (strips of habitat connecting fragmented areas of the forest) is a crucial step towards the recovery of the park. The main responsibility for the construction of these corridors lies with the National Park Authority. Born to be Wild will provide expertise where needed to help this authority.

    Main expected results:

    - In 2019, important steps will be taken to protect and restore the habitat of the Barbary macaque in the Ifrane National Park.
    - In 2019, ecotourism will start to be generate income. This income will ensure that the deployment of the community scouts continues after the end of the project.



    Born to Be Wild in the media

    To increase awareness of the issues, we want to generate as much attention as possible for this project.
    In December 2017, an item about Born to Be Wild was featured on ‘Koffietijd', a television programme sponsored by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.



    Tim Huijsmans is a young man who founded the “Faunawatch” foundation and is actively involved in the protection of endangered species. At the end of September 2018, Tim visited the Born to be Wild project in Morocco. He saw for himself how the Barbary macaque lives in the wild, what the threats to this special species are and what the project scouts are doing to protect the monkeys and their habitat. See the three video­­­ reports of Tim’s visit.

    Tim's bezoek aan Marokko