By Mikey Jones
Campaigners claim an iconic tourist photo destination where dozens of goats perch in trees has been uncovered as an exploitative scam.
The popular attraction of the animals, which appear to naturally stand high on the boughs of trees on the roads between Marrakech and Essaouira, Morocco, has long been an attraction for holidaymakers from across the globe.
But photographer Aaron Gekoski, 38, a specialist in documenting cruelty in the Wildlife Tourism industry, investigated the ‘natural phenomenon’ for the Born Free Foundation after receiving a tip off claiming the site was not all it seemed.
Aaron, who visited Morrocco earlier this year, was told ‘opportunistic farmers’ brought goats in from other areas and forced them into the trees before charging travellers to take snaps.
Aaron said: “After seeing tourists’ interest in the tree-dwelling goats, some opportunistic farmers decide to manipulate the situation for financial gain.
“I heard they even brought goats in from other areas, built platforms in the trees and now cajole the goats into the trees, charging tourists to take photographs.
“They will take the goats home in the late afternoon, before coaxing them back into the trees at sunrise.
The goats are incredibly nimble and dextrous when it comes to navigating the trees, though generally they just stand in one place, looking rather sick and forlorn.
“All the tourists who visited seemed blissfully unaware though and ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ before taking photos and selfies.”
UK-born photographer Aaron heard claims the farmers brought multiple goats from entirely different areas and put them on platforms in the trees, leaving them unable to get down by themselves.
Once tired, the goats are brought down and swapped with another, while unscrupulous vendors charge every tourist for the photos they wish to take before removing all the goats from the trees at the end of the day.
The next morning, the farmers are allegedly spotted coaxing the animals back up at sunrise to start the con again.
Aaron claims he also heard reports the goats were slaughtered after they had come to the end of their natural lifespan.
He said: “The goats are often rotated halfway through the day as they get tired. It’s incredibly hot work standing in a tree all day and generally the goats are in poor condition and very skinny.”
“There were also almost no older goats, which I heard get eaten.
“The farmers will also hand over young goats, known as kids, for photo opportunities in front of the trees.
“Also, having so many goats in one place threatens the sustainability of the trees as their hooves damage the branches.
“Elsewhere in Morocco, women will harvest Argan oil by hand, which is more ethical and environmentally friendly.”
Dr Chris Draper, head of animal welfare and captivity at Born Free, said: “Images of goats in trees have become iconic, suggesting a rural idyll where crafty and agile animals have learned to make the most of their environment.
“Sadly, the reality seems to be that this is anything but natural, and is instead an exploitative set-up, designed to snare unsuspecting tourists to pay to take pictures.
“The animals are unable or unwilling to move from where they are placed in the trees by people.
“This means that they will be unable to move into shade or to forage in a normal manner.
“The situation is likely to be very stressful for the goats, made worse by being placed next to a busy road and with streams of visitors stopping to take a look.
“This is just one of several issues of which we are aware in Morocco where animals are being abused to cater for a demand and provide photo opportunities for tourists.
“Born Free urges everyone to keep an eye out for animals while travelling and on holiday: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“Born Free will soon be launching our new initiative, Raise the Red Flag, to collate public reports of animals in need, and to provide people with the tools to make their voice heard for animals.”