Herpetological trip to North and Eastern Morocco – April 2017
By Ander Izagirre Egaña
During the Easter holidays of 2017 I was in Morocco, repeating a trip similar to the one made a year earlier.
We were 8 days non-stop, with the aim of seeing different species of amphibians and reptiles. In Morocco there are already species that can be found in the Iberian Peninsula, but most of the species are different, some very impressive indeed. To tell the truth, Morocco hooks!
The previous year we went down south until we reached the Sahara. This time we went east, to the Algerian border. So we could find more new species.
We were a group of 5 people: Rafael Vázquez and Ana Vidal from Galicia, Raúl León from Ciudad Real, Gabri Martínez from Madrid and I from the Basque Country. Herps machines and very big as people! It was a joy to take this trip with them.
We arrived in Algeciras early and with a couple of hours to catch the ferry, we went to a nearby field that we knew from the previous year, with the intention of starting to look for herps. We couldn’t waste time, haha. Last year the matter went well for us, and this year we couldn’t complain either
From there, we took the ferry and to Africa! It took us a long time to cross the strait due to wind gusts, and we arrived in Morocco at night. We went straight did the Rif and started to see the first herps in Morocco
We finished the day very tired but happy. The adventure had begun!
After the long day before, we slept next to an interesting pond in the Riff, and we started the second day exploring the pond and its surroundings
Before noon, the place started to fill up with Sundays and we moved to a nearby area, even on the Rif
Next day we wanted to reach Fez so we drove a bit in that direction. Meanwhile we made several stops and enjoy of more herps.
We ended the day in Ouezane, with the intention of sleeping ther and next morning begin searching for herps just there.
On the third day we wanted to make a difficult attempt. Specifically, look for a species of skink that has not been seen since 1970: Chalcides ebneri. It was a very difficult (possibly impossible) attempt, but if we succeeded it would be a great discovery.
In this territory agricultural land predominated. They were bad enough habitats to search for amphibians and reptiles, and we saw few species
From Ouezane we were approaching Fez, making stops along the way. Still hoping to find the “missing” skink haha. As always, on the way we would check all the pits, to rescue the trapped animals.
We made an effort to look for the skink but to tell the truth, it was very difficult terrain to look for it. Lots of agricultural land and few hiding places for the skink. Maybe next time
We passed Fez and continued east to Jerada. We walked around the Jerada area and slept there
The fourth day we continue searching the same area of the previous night around Jerada, and we found several of our wished species.
From Jerada we drove to Saidia area, where we continue seeing more species.
From there we drove to the South, in direction to Figuig.
After the fourth day, we had made the half of the trip. We were enjoying a lot, happy with the species found, and we still have 4 more days in Morocco.
The day numer five we drove to the South, to Figuig.
As soon as we took the detour to Figuig from Bouarfa, we immediately start to see the incredible Uromastyx nigriventris individuals.
Along the way we also encountered a cruel reality. We found an Uromastyx caught with a lasso. We cut the rope and set it free, but if it was a trap set by an inhabitant of the next town, it will be caught again. Unfortunately, illegal trafficking of this species is quite common. I also leave you the link to the video made by RaúlLeón on this topic
We arrived to Figuig at night, and continued searching in the surroundings.
To end the night we made a bad decision. There were frogs and toads singing in a pond next to the border between Morocco and Algeria. It appears to be a dangerous border and we decided to make a quick visit. Take two photos and get out of there.
That was the intention, but I entertained myself with the toad in the last photo, while the others returned to the van. While I was lying on the ground taking photos, a man appeared from the darkness (it was two o’clock at night), with an object in his hand, similar to a machete. I tried to explain, but we didn’t understand each other. I don’t know what he was saying but he was very angry. And I shit! Luckily I was able to get back to the van and we got out of there throwing pipes. I will never forget that photo of the toad! Although Morocco is a very safe country, you have to be careful and avoid borders and other troubled places at night.
Next day we made herping in the surroundings of Figuig.
After eating we returned to Bouarfa.
We found a false cobra in the road, unfortunately dead, recently killed by a car, and it had inside a juvenile of Uromastyx nigriventris.
At night we went to a rocky area around Bouarfa, with the idea of seeing a very species snake. We wanted to see the incredible Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes).
Although we looked for hard until late in the evening and first hour of the night, there was very cold and we didn´t find any C. cerastes. To tell the truth, it was a great disappointment, but fortunately, the next morning things would be different.
After the failure of the previous day, we had little hope of finding a Cerastes cerastes, but before moving from there, we had to make one last attempt.
At once, Rafa found the tracks of a Cerastes. Freshly made tracks!
The viper must be close so we followed the tracks very carefully. Between the stones, we lost the tracks and that was not a easy work. When we had the tracks almost lost, Gabri lifted a bush up and… the viper was there! ¡A juvenile Cerastes cerastes! ¡Amazing!
From Bouarfa we drove to Merzouga. In the way we saw the Ziz Valley. A very special and nice landscape, a green “river” of vegetation in the middle of the desert.
In the way, we were checking pits, and we rescued a snake of the same species that we saw DOR the last day. A false cobra, that imitates the cobra spreading a wood. Very elegant!
Checking pits in the surroundings of Merzouga, we found a dead juvenile Desert Monitor. Most of the animals that fall inside these traps are trapped, and soon or late, they die. A pity to find this species by this way.
It was the hour to begin the return to home so at night we drove north, trying to rest kilometers for the next day.
In our last day, we had to drive to the ferry, although we had time to visit a couple of places. To begin, we did two stops in the Middle Atlas.
Crossing the Middle Atlas we also could see some monkeys.
From the Atlas, when we arrived to the Atlantic Coast, instead of continuing to the north, we move a bit west, to make the last stop of the trip around Ben Slimane. We had a small incident, but we could see the last herp species.
From there we went to Tanger, took the ferry and headed home. Here ends our adventure.
With the experiences lived for 8 days and the images of all the animals seen in the memory, we were very satisfied, with a very positive assessment. We were missing some species, but again, we found that Morocco does not disappoint.
To finish, it is my turn to thank the traveling companions. Rafael Vázquez, Ana Vidal, Raúl León and Gabri Martínez, it is a luxury to take this trip with you! I hope I can repeat it!
You can see this trip and many others on my personal website by clicking HERE
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