Like much else in the country, expect the unexpected regarding animals in Morocco. Let’s start with cats. They’re everywhere. We were told that during medieval times, cats were deliberately imported to take care of the rat problem. They were so successful in the task that they’ve been regarded as a clean and useful member of society ever since. Their presence is positively ubiquitous.
Moroccan cats come in one variety: medium small, short haired, with a pointed face. However, they sport a variety of coat colors and patterns. We saw them all over the Kasbah of the Udayas. The Chellah held an entire tribe. Even the king’s garden held a plethora. And that was Rabat, the first city we visited.
The cats in the poolside restaurant of our hotel in Ouarzazate came and went like they owned the place. Several very bossy cats during our breakfast in the patio of our upscale Marrakesh hotel unabashedly delivered strong opinions about our generosity levels. And from there they descended on the socio-economic scale.
Cats and dogs versus angels
Our Berber guide declared, “A home without a cat has no angels in it.” Now, I happen to like cats, but I struggled to see how an angel and a cat might have any kind of conjunction.
While I was trying to figure out the context for this rather baffling folk more, I happened on an article from Morocco World News. “As a creature, a cat is to be loved and cared for by people. Mistreating a cat is considered an awful sin in Islam.” The article also states, “Dogs are not desired in our culture. There is a saying that angels do not enter into houses having dogs. Also, if a dog eats from your plate, you need to wash it up seven times or more.”
It’s a well-known Muslim religious perception that contact with a dog makes him ritually unclean. But I’m still puzzled about the angels.
Last Lion of Ifrane
Ifrane, the ski resort in the Middle Atlas Mountains, introduced me to what is possibly Morocco’s most famous animal, the Barbary Lion. The colossal head of this sculptural tribute to the last Barbary lion stands almost seven feet in height.
A sub-species of the African lion, the Barbary lion was much larger in size than all others. According to Scientific American, “the Barbary lion (also known as the Atlas Lion or Nubian Lion) ranged from Morocco to Egypt. Royal Barbary lions are credited with physiological distinctive features including extensive mane, a pointed crown of head, narrow muzzle, physically bigger than other African lions and with different coloured eyes.”
The Barbary lion was slaughtered indiscriminately by the Romans in the Coliseum games. Then, the Arab conquest of northern Africa served to drastically reduce their territory. After that, droves of European hunters killed the Barbary lions for sport. No firm sightings have been made since WWII, but studies are ongoing as to whether some purebreds still remain in the Rabat zoo.
Monkeys in the Middle Atlas
Driving on from Ifrane, as you continue to ascend the Middle Atlas Mountains, the montane cedar woods grow taller. At the summit, we stopped to watch the monkeys.
Ranging in color from slate grey to warm brown, the monkey’s coats would easily blend with the colors of the sand and gravel base beneath the trees. They seemed completely comfortable with humans and I saw some people making direct contact. Personally, I like to keep a certain distance from wild animals. Seems like a courtesy they deserve.
Also, I wondered why the forest floors don’t have any leafy mulch to speak of. No woody decomposition, just hard dirt and gravel. There is so little farming in the area, that it seems unlikely people would have harvested the rich top soil that would have resulted from millennia of decomposition of tree detritus.
A turtle in every home?
We found a number of collections of turtle-sizes (S, M, L, XL) at shops throughout the souks in Rabat. Apparently, having a pet turtle in the home brings good luck. Not sure I can say the same about the little rodent in the cage behind.
We spied these little “flag” turtles having a lettuce lunch in a souk in Marrakesh.
Next week I’ll explore more ways in which the animals of Morocco contribute to its distinctive culture, so hope to see you back!