Distress in Marrakesh: mistreated monkeys in the medina

I’m in Marrakesh this week and had an eventful, if rather stressful, first day in the famous square.

We managed not to get run over by the marauding motorbikes (no mean feat), and also managed to snatch our wrists back from the henna-wielding women before they could begin a tattoo on us.

We enjoyed delicious tagines at Restaurant Marrekchi overlooking Djemaa el-Fna; there’s been a religious feast with lots of lamb this weekend, so it’s a great time to here (unless, of course, you’re a lamb).

We did get conned into spending 20 quid on dried figs and dates (albeit very tasty ones) by a street vendor who I suspect was willfully misunderstanding my A-level French.

But by far the most distressing part of the day was seeing captive monkeys being forced to sit on tourists’ heads and shoulders for photographs.

Just seeing the monkeys yanked around by their wrists on a lead, and the tiny cage in which they were all crammed, was upsetting enough. But when one monkey was taken out of the cage, distressed and angry, it started jumping at and biting its keeper. The keeper took out a length of thick rope and beat the monkey with it, then slapped the animal around the head. I felt sick.

The shrieking monkey went completely silent, so I imagine that it had been hit with a sizable amount of force.

Monkeys weren’t the only unfortunates in the square – we also saw a pigeon which, whether drugged or injured, seemed unable to fly away, and a hedgehog on a leash. Then of course there’s all the snakes…

I understand that different cultures treat animals in different ways, but I’m sure I’m not the only visiting tourist who finds such animal abuse completely abhorrent. It’s certainly been enough to taint my view of Marrakesh.

I think the tourist board should push for the use of live animals by entertainers in the square to be banned altogether – the games, stalls, music and magic of Djemaa el-Fna are more than enough of an attraction without this outdated and cruel sort of entertainment.

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