barbary macaque in the wild
Barbary macaque in the wild

Born to be wild

Project to ensure the survival of the
endangered Barbary macaque


For years, rescue requests for Barbary macaques were increasing at AAP. Research in 2008 confirmed the worst: the Barbary macaque is on the brink of extinction. Less than 10,000 Barbary macaques are still living in the wild (Morocco and Algeria), compared to some 23,000 in 1977 ... Baby Barbary macaques are stolen from the wild by poachers and then traded illegally. The animals then end up as pets or as a tourist attraction. In addition, the natural habitat of the Barbary macaque is rapidly being destroyed. 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 initiated the project in 2017, in close collaboration with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and other organizations. Born to be Wild is an ambitious follow-up to the work of MPC (Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation), founded in 2003 by a former AAP employee with a heart for Barbary macaques. 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

Berberaap in Ifrane National Park


AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection leads the project in close collaboration with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). IFAW coordinated all activities in Morocco, AAP organized all activities in Europe (i.e. Spain and Italy). AAP and IFAW also have various partners, the most important of which are:

  • Moroccan authorities (national, regional and local)Ifaw logo
  • 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)

After the initial project period (2017-2020), IFAW ended the collaboration and AAP decided to continue the project independently. For this purpose, AAP Marocco was founded with the goal of a sustainable transfer of the project to the local communities and authorities.

National Postcode LotteryMogelijk gemaakt door de deelnemers van de Postcode Loterij

Born to be Wild would not have been possible without the generous support of the participants of the National Postcode Lottery. AAP received over € 1.3 million euro's from the lottery in 2017 to realize this project to protect the Barbary macaque.


The problem

The biggest threats to the Barbary macaque are poaching, illegal trade and habitat destruction. Research in 2008 was crystal clear about the consequences if nothing happened: the irrevocable extinction of Barbary macaques in the Middle Atlas Mountains. And if this largest population of Barbary macaques in the world disappears, it could mean the loss of the entire primate 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.
  • 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, the mortality rate among illegally smuggled animals is undoubtedly high.
  • The Barbary macaque is the most frequently seized endangered mammal in the European Union and among the most common primates taken to AAP for shelter.

Habitat destruction

  • The last Barbary macaques in the wild live in fragmented areas of northern Algeria and Morocco. About half of all remaining Barbary macaques live in Ifrane National Park, a national park formed by 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


At the heart of the project is a team of passionate scouts active in Ifrane National Park, a nature reserve in the Middle Atlas Mountains. These scouts patrol the park day and night to spot illegal activity and keep an eye on the 15 groups of Barbary macaques closest to the park's tourist zones. They also listen to the concerns of the local fruit farmers considering the macaques a nuisance and provide information to tourists.

Simultaneously lessons are offered in schools; in 2020 more than 30 schools in the national park area were visited to lecture the purpose of Barbary macaques. Finally, local authorities receive training in the successful seizure of intercepted animals and learn about international agreements such as CITES, CMS, AEWA and CBD.

Rangers in Ifrane


For the past three years, the scouts in the park have carefully monitored the group size of Barbary macaques. During the study in 2008, half of all young animals disappeared from the groups that lived closest to tourist areas. But now a growth can be seen. Compared to the 2008 census, the most affected groups have now more than doubled in number. That is a great result of all the work in Ifrane National Park.

During the first three years of Born to be Wild (2017-2020), an annual population growth of 9.5% per year is visible in the research data. That means that the monitored groups have grown by a total of 32% - an increase of 86 Barbary macaques. This number does not do justice to the actual impact, because different groups have split into two groups due to the growth. Some moved to new areas that are not studied and thus are not counted.



These figures do not do justice to the impressive stories behind the results. Like the time in November 2019, when an infant was poached from one of the habituated groups. The individuals who took it were identified, tracked and arrested. The monkey was brought to the police, and she was returned to her group in less than 24 hours. The poacher was fined 30000 dh (€ 3000). This case involved excellent communication and coordination between vendors in the national park who observed the event, Ifrane National Park authorities, Regional and National Forestry departments, police, and the Community Scout team.




The scouts have improved the cooperation between local authorities, thanks to our framework agreement with the wildlife conservation authorities in Morocco (Department of Water and Forests). In the field of illegal logging, promising results have been achieved and the local police is supported in various ways. Also, with the help of the fire department, numerous fires have been extinguished to prevent further habitat loss.

Young macaques


The data gathered by the Community Scouts produced valuable scientific information on the Barbary macaque population in Ifrane National Park. The effects of tourism on the macaques, tourist interaction with the macaques, the impact of the Scouts’ tourist outreach efforts, and an unusual case of a juvenile adopted by a neighboring group. These findings have been and will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals to demonstrate the effectiveness of the project, provide science-based recommendations for further efforts for Barbary macaque conservation, and provide findings which can be valuable for conservation of other endangered species.


The financial support of the National Postcode Lottery allows AAP to continue the project and prevents activities from having to be scaled back. The danger for the Barbary macaque has not yet passed and continuing the work remains necessary. Part of the assignment for AAP Marocco is to set up a rehabilitation and release program for the rescued Barbary macaques. The ultimate goal is to transfer the project to the local authorities in a sustainable way, so that the community scouts can continue their work independently.

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