Wildlife more endangered than ever, in changing ecosystems

Morocco hides an extraordinary wealth of flora and fauna, thanks to its geographical context, which places it in the hotspot of the Mediterranean ecoregion. For its biodiversity, it is considered by the United Nations and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as the second, after Turkey, in terms of species diversity and rate of endemism, with notable varieties that are not found in almost any country. place else. This is particularly the case for the argan tree, the Moroccan spruce, the magot monkey or the Barbary magot, as well as many reptiles, amphibians and insectivores, explains Yabiladi Imad Cherkaoui, professor-researcher in ecology at the Ibn Tofail University of Kenitra.

However, this area, exceptionally rich in biodiversity, with ecosystems whose balance remains fragile, faces the same challenges as those of other regions of the African continent. In a report published last week, the WWF warns that almost 70% of Africa’s wildlife has disappeared since 1970. The reasons are many, starting with the destruction of natural habitats, poaching and global warming, which are the three main threats to biodiversity on the continent. According to the WWF, the loss of wild species in their natural environment reached 66% between 1970 and 2018.

Aquatic and terrestrial species have already disappeared

In this context, Imad Cherkaoui recalls that Morocco “enjoys a position at the crossroads between two blocks of continents, Africa and Europe, migration axis for 200 species of birds that pass through the country, where they nest in certain seasons”. It is also a temporary habitat during the pre-nuptial migration of other species, hence the importance of redoubling vigilance and awareness for the protection of these places. To this end, “the government created a network of protected reserves, dozens of national parks, classified Ramsar sites, restored wetlands and four biosphere reserves of cedar, argan, oasis and an intercontinental reserve, between the country of Jbalas and Andalusia, which it is the only one in the world located between two continents”, he recalls.

On the other hand, this biodiversity is threatened. Imad Cherkaoui recalls that “Morocco is going through its most severe drought cycle in the last forty years”, causing “many of these ecosystems to suffer”. “Many species of fauna dependent on aquatic areas are greatly impacted, such as the otter, endemic fish such as trout, trout, water birds that settle, feed and reproduce in wetlands”, he warns. Until now, “Morocco has not yet issued a red list of its own, based on the recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to define exactly the conservation status of each species in part”, underlines the expert, raising the challenge of the inventory that should “concern all classes of animals, terrestrial and aquatic, to help prioritize conservation efforts”.

At the level of the Society for the Protection of Animals and Nature in Morocco (SPANA), this work is carried out in order to cover as much as possible the ecosystem zones of the country. Its secretary general, Abdeslam Bouchefra, told Yabiladi that of the 25,000 species recorded, we can know that 15,000 belong to the insect family. As for the large fauna, better known to the general public, there are “200 species, including 92 reptiles, 11 amphibians and 105 mammals”. “Of all the fauna, 2,700 species are endemic, distributed in three large ecosystems that are home to 75% of the Moroccan fauna: steppes, forests and swamps”, he adds.

He also recalls that “Morocco is a crossroads for fauna and above all for large fauna, of which 112 species are part of the cold areas of Europe and Asia”. There are also “145 Mediterranean, 85 Saharan, other tropical and cosmopolitan species”. “It is the result between the interactions of biotic, tectonic and climatic events, as we know that Africa and Europe were one continent, at another time. Many wild species are therefore found in the country and give this aspect of rich biodiversity”, he explains.

The large fauna is precisely among the most affected species, many of which “completely disappeared from Morocco between 1925 and 1956” and some were reintroduced. Abdeslam Bouchefra lists several examples: “We can mention the Atlas lion, the fine-horned gazelle, the red-tailed ostrich and varieties recently reintroduced in the Agadir region, in addition to the guinea fowl, the Nile crocodile. Among mammals, species are vulnerable and endangered, such as hyenas, cheetahs, dama mhorr gazelle and monk seal. Other species became rare, such as the fennec fox, Cuvier’s gazelle, the handcuffed sheep, the otter, the mongoose, the gloved cat, the weasel…”.

Despite the abundance, a few years ago other species continued to be threatened, such as the wild boar and the magot monkey, underlines the former forestry engineer. Among fish, he recalls that extinct species such as shad or trout, which now only exist in the context of breeding, have also disappeared from their natural environment.

Disappearances mainly due to the human factor

“In Morocco, many species have disappeared because of the human factor”, analyzes Imad Cherkaoui, who in turn cites the tawny eagle, the Arabian bustard or the hartebeest antelope. The country is working to protect endangered species, through a program created primarily to preserve Sahelo-Saharan species, as well as a project to rehabilitate birds of prey and magot monkeys. In this sense, the researcher points out that many species of the Moroccan ecosystem heritage are on the global red list of threatened or endangered species, including several varieties of vultures.

Imad Cherkaoui explains the phase of extinction recorded in the Protectorate (1912 – 1956) by the lack of interest in the balance of the ecosystem at the time, as well as the widespread hunting practices. “After Independence, a second period of extinction followed the large extension of agricultural areas and the installation of large hydro-agricultural systems, precipitating the destruction of various natural spaces, forests, but above all wetlands”, he underlines.

“In addition, there has been an awareness of the importance of protecting these species, giving rise to the creation of protected areas that allowed their protection. On the other hand, illegal hunting and the destruction of natural habitats or their modification still destroy the local fauna, not to mention the systematic elimination of species considered harmful, mainly by poisoning”, analyzes the researcher.

Abdeslam Bouchefra highlights that another worrying element is the rate of extinction of these species in Morocco. “Before, we counted from 50 to 100 years for the disappearance, because of the evolutions and the changes that the ecosystems undergo”, he declares to us, thus explaining that “the changes were made over time, which allowed the species to have time adaptation to continue living in the same environment, or move to another.” “Given the now brutal pace of these changes, many are unable to acclimate or move around, which condemns them to disappear”, analyzes the specialist.

In addition to natural factors, such as climate irregularity and drought, the factors of disappearance “continue to be mainly anthropogenic causes, that is, linked to human action”, also confirms the secretary general of SPANA. “These animals live in natural environments, which are invaded, occupied and increasingly exploited by local residents. This pressure exerted on the natural environment means that it can no longer perform its function and regenerate itself to ensure a certain balance. The occupants among these species therefore no longer find their housing or their food,” he analyzes. According to him, the situation is worrying, especially since humans “seek to invest in the sources of these ecosystems”, as is the case with water.

According to the activist, “these causes are getting worse with the climatic disturbances that we are seeing around the world, disturbing natural environments, in addition to the disturbances, as well as the problems linked to the non-implementation of certain laws”. Imad Cherkaoui insists in particular on the drought factor, which also increases the risk of forest fires and, therefore, the danger of habitat destruction that is difficult to restore. Although the researcher believes that “most fires, in our context, would be caused by a human and purposeful factor”, he says that the phenomenon is “exacerbated by water stress and abnormally excessive temperatures in relation to the seasons, as well as the repeated waves of heat.

These factors highlight the many ecosystem and environmental constraints that weigh on the diversity of fauna, “in addition to all threats of human origin, direct or indirect”, according to Imad Cherkaoui. In this sense, the scientist highlights that “many sites were destroyed to make way for human activities, urbanization, in addition to pollution, poaching, hunting and illegal capture of animals, observed by many civil society associations.

In turn, the WWF recommended in Africa to intensify efforts for conservation and restoration, more sustainable food production and consumption, and rapid decarbonization of all economic sectors.

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