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Morocco's National Parks, Biospheres and Reserves

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Thoughts of Morocco often conjure up scenes of desert dunes, noisy souks and ancient architecture. However, since the 1930’s the Moroccan authorities have been working toward conserving their natural resources. There are a number of national parks and game reserves to visit and enjoy. They are located in wilderness areas, deserts, snow capped mountain ranges and forests.

 

      Travel Guide | Parks and Reserves

 

The National Parks, Biospheres and Reserves | Morocco

Birds

Morocco is a country with an impressive wildlife diversity. Its most diverse is its birdlife with over 450 species found throughout the country. They include Ostriches, a large variety of ducks, geese and swan, pheasants and partridges, Guinea fowl, divers, grebes, albatrosses, shearwaters and petrals, flamingos, hawks, eagles and so many more.

Morocco birdlife

Clockwise from left: Purple Heron, Moussier's Redstart and Houbara Bustard
[Attribution: Wikimedia Commons and Jimfbleak]

A great deal is being done to save 11 species that are currently very near extinction in Morocco. This is the goal as the authorities work tirelessly to manage the national parks and reserves where they currently have a safer haven to increase their numbers. Threatened species include the Purple Heron, White-Headed duck, Crested Coot and Marble Duck. Two of the best locations for bird watching are the Souss Massa Biological Reserve and the Toubkal Biological Reserve.

Butterflies

There are over 132 species of butterfly in Morocco and this doesn’t even include the sub species. The families include: Hesperiidae, Papilionidae, Pieridae, Lycaenidae and Nymphalidae. A good place to go on butterfly safari is in the High Atlas region.

Mammals

Deforestation for agricultural use as well as pollution threatens the existence of many species in the country. Jackal, Red Fox, Leopard and 18 highly threatened mammal species are still found in the wild. Threatened species include the Barbary Leopard, Waldrapp, Mediterranean Monk Seal, Barbary Hyena, Cuviers Gazelle and the Spanish Imperial Eagle. Egyptian Cobras, Golden Jackals, Red Foxes and Leopards are found in the Souss Massa Biological Reserve and Toubkal Biological Reserve. The High Atlas area is wonderful to view great and small from elephant to squirrels.

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Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve - A Unesco Reserve

Highlight – Wildlife and Argan trees
Size – 2,560,000 hectares
Location – Southwestern Morocco bordered by the High and Anti Atlas Mountains
Unfortunately one of the highlights of this reserve also serves as one of its threats. The Argan Forest is an important home to many species of wildlife; however the trees are as important. They have become a part of the Moroccan economy. The oil produced by the Argan tree is used in cosmetics and the wood is used in pharmaceuticals. 

Things to do:
Trekking the Argan Forest
Visits to a woman’s coop where Argan oil is produced
Visit local fishing and farming villages
Look out for the goats that climb the trees to graze
Wildlife viewing

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The Mediterranean Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve
of Morocco and Spain
- a Unesco Reserve

Highlight – within this enormous reserve visitors will find a number of conservation areas and national parks
Size and location – the reserves spans across two countries – Northern Morocco and Spain

The reserve is an undertaking through Unesco’s Man and the Biosphere Program that aims at involving the local communities to reach conservation goals. Spain and Morocco are culturally and geographically similar and therefore can share in this initiative. Many once believed that Morocco and Spain were one country and this is why the Rif mountains in Northern Morocco continue on in Southern Spain. The initiative is funded by both countries.

The national parks on the Moroccan side of the reserve include: Talassemtane National Park also including sites such as Koudiet Taifour, Lagune de Smir (Smir Lagoon), Jbel Bouhachem (a really good mountain to climb) and Jbel Moussa.

Things to do:
Whale watching in the Mediterranean
Mountain climbing
Bird watching in the region of Merdja Zerga Biological Reserve and the Blue Lagoon Reserve near Moullay Bousselham.
Wildlife viewing
Trekking
Village visits

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Oasis Du Sud Marocain Biosphere Reserve

Highlights: A vast diversity of unique habitats and geography from grasslands, to desert areas, mountain systems and cultivated land.
Size: Spanning 7 million hectares

Things to do:
Visit the World Heritage Site of the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Southern Morocco.
Ksar is the name given to a group of earthen building surrounded by a high wall.

 

Oued Massa Nature Reserve

Highlight – Bird lover’s paradise
Location – very near Agadir

For the bird lover this is the place to go to see Sand Grouse, Cranes, Snipe, Little Crake, Dunlin and numerous other species. Notably it is home to the very rare Bald Ibis. It is important to move around within the reserve because species in one area may differ from another. One may see Spoonbill, Stork, Flamingo or Osprey simply by moving to a different location on the opposite side of the reserve.

Oued Massa Nature Reserve

Oued Massa Nature Reserve, Morocco
[Attribution: Wikimedia Commons - JP.Neri]

Birding here is seasonal and one may see Hoopoes or Bee-eaters in the spring but then will only see Great Grey Shrike or Siren in the winter months.

Things to do:
Trekking
Birding

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Souss Massa National Park

Highlight – Spectacular birding
Location – near Agadir

This is one of Morocco’s most beautiful parks with a scenic variation of beaches, cultivated fields, majestic sand dunes, rocky cliffs and thick Argania forests. Naturally the diversity of the terrain in this park attracted a wide variety of wildlife to the various habitats. 

Souss Massa National Park - Beekeeping and even carpet weaving

Souss Massa National Park - beekeeping and carpet weaving
[Attribution: Wikimedia Commons - Souss Massa NP]

Birding is exceptional here with an array of species to view. Some examples include Marbled Ducks, Peregrines, Booted Eagles, Purples Herons and more. Probably the most sought after sighting would be the Northern Bals Ibis which is very rare. It is believed that there are as few as 100 breeding pairs left with 75 of these pairs making their home in Souss Massa National Park. Other wildlife sites to behold on the ground this time are Jackals, Hedgehogs African Wild Cat and Red Fox. A slithering variety of lizards, reptiles and amphibians are also seen in the park.

Things to do:
Spectacular birding tours

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Tazekka National Park

Highlights – Birding, cedar forests, wildlife
Size – 12,800 hectares
Location – Northern regions of Morocco near Taza

A common thought when one thinks of a national park is wildlife and this is what you will find at Tazekka National Park. It is an important birding destination and is listed on the IBA list of global birding sites with Birdlife International.

The park was formed to protect the resources around Jbel Tazekka, a peak in the middle Atlas Mountain range. The Cedar trees were of particular importance and conservation efforts have been successful in saving the grove of cedars. The success has spread and today forests of cork oak and holm oak can also be seen in the park. The park has a mixture of caves, canyons, forests and is dominated by Jbel Tazekka the big mountain. The wonderful mix of topography along with the beautiful flora in the area has made this a popular hiking destination.

Things to do:
Hiking
Visit the ecological museum
Wildlife viewing

 

Merdja Zerga Biological Reserve

Highlights - Birding
Location – Near the town of Moullay Bousselham

The name of the Reserve means Blue Lagoon and is a tidal lagoon near Moullay Bousselham where birding enthusiasts flock annually. Great examples of wildfowl, waders and migrating birds are seen here. Rare sightings of the African Marsh Owl have been reported.

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Toubkal National Park

Highlights – Hiking
Location – Near Marrakech

The Jbel Toubkal Mountain forms a part of the park and is a prime destination for hikers.

Toubkal National Park

Mule Trekking in Toubkal National Park
[Attribution: Wikimedia Commons - Andeggs and Viault]

 

Other National Parks and Reserves

Talassemtane National Park
Highlight – Fir forests
Location – On the Rif of Northern Morocco

El Houceima National Park
Highlight – Coastal and marine habitats. Colonies of Osprey
Location – Coast of Morocco

Ifrane National Park
Highlight – Atlas cedar forests, Barbary ape
Location – Middle Atlas Mountains

The Barbary Macaque (a tail-less monkey, incorrectly a.k.a. Barbary Ape) is the only primate that is indigenous to the Mediterranean. They are often seen on the margins of the forest, however they are very shy and may disappear to lofty areas of the Cedar forest if disturbed.

Barbary apes

Barbary Macaque and baby
[Attribution: Wikimedia Commons - Karyn Sig]

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