Travelers journeying between Marrakech and Essaouira — two popular tourist destinations in Morocco — will most likely come across the peculiar and intriguing sight of goats balancing in trees along the road. They will be tempted to stop, stare, and take pictures of the improbable scene, without realizing that the delightful spectacle conceals a darker side.

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While goats in Morocco do naturally climb Argan trees to eat their olive-like fruits — having certainly evolved these amazing acrobatic abilities due to the scarcity of other food sources in their dry and dusty habitat — locals have begun to prey on this unique activity, using the goats’ natural tendency to climb trees as a cruel ploy to make money.

Tying Goats to Trees for Profit

As these pictures clearly show, the goats are tied to the branches with ropes, trapped in the trees in the beating sun and sweltering heat just to attract tourists looking for a cool photo opp. Sometimes, herders use an almost invisible material, such as fishing wire, to tie the goats, in order to conceal the fact that this unique spectacle is in fact staged. Herders charge a fee to travelers seeking to immortalize the sight or even pose carrying a goat. Indeed, while some goats are tied to tree branches, unable to climb back down, others are used as a living stuffed animal, passed around to tourists and their children to pick up, carry and otherwise manhandle for pictures.

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Several media outlets have reported on the animals’ remarkable gymnastics, but their pun-filled titles and subtitles — “you’ve goat to see these silly billies” — and lighthearted content about goat excrements reveal nothing about the inhumane practice of tying the animals to tree-branches, doing nothing to curb the cruelty or educate the public about what’s really going on. This means that despite the mistreatment involved — for tethering goats to high branches for hours on end, where they suffer from the heat and the harsh sun and are forced to continue balancing in the trees, exhausted, far longer than they usually would, constitutes animal abuse — this practice is still virtually unknown and goes majorly unreported.

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Travel tours advertise the phenomenon and encourage tourists to come capture the “magical sight,” but there is nothing magical about mistreating animals for profit. Yet, travelers continue to pay herders to manhandle and take pictures of the goats, thus directly allowing them to profit from tethering animals to branches. The practice is also destroying the ecosystem, according to experts, with more and more herders buying goats to make money from, effectively overburdening and ruining the Argan trees. Moreover, Professor Travis Lybbert explains that these animals are treated as “living, breathing, tree-climbing (and ruining, sometimes) commodities that can be sold or eaten, if not otherwise useful.”

Unfortunately, animals being commodified and abused for tourist attractions and photo opportunities is a widespread problem across the globe. In Morocco itself, camels are ridden to exhaustion around palm plantations, painfully tied with ropes that cut the inside of their mouths to the preceding camel’s tail, monkeys are chained by their necks and forced to perform tricks, and snakes are drugged and exposed in city squares. In Thailand and other parts of Asia, elephants are also ridden by tourists, sometimes to death, tigers and bears are confined to cages to be exhibited, baby lions are torn from their mothers to amuse visitors and across the world, social media users’ obsession with unique selfies is causing the suffering and death of innocent animals, including turtles, dolphins and sharks, peacocks, swans, and countless others.

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What You Can Do

“It’s great to experience culture when you go overseas,” says Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild, “but although you can leave your stresses and worries at home, you shouldn’t really leave your morals.” He adds that “If you love animals, or even if you just believe that they should be treated with respect” then it’s important to be discerning and make sure you aren’t supporting instances of animal abuse.

No doubt, seeing goats perched high on tree branches sounds like a delightful experience people would be willing to pay for. So does riding around on the back of elephants or taking selfies with baby lions. But this is far from pleasant for the animals involved and tourists must exercise caution and ensure their desire for quirky photo opps is not funding cruelty to animals. It is crucial to remember that animals exist in their own right and are sentient beings who are not ours to use for profit or entertainment. They are certainly not commodities to ride around on and use as selfie props.

The best thing you can do for animals is to only engage in conscious tourism — and remember that some ecotourism trips may not be as green as they purport to be — and to ensure you never contribute to their suffering by funding facilities that abuse them. Check out the Right Tourism website for more information on making responsible, informed and humane travel plans.

You can also contact the Moroccan government to express your opposition to this abuse, explaining that you will not visit the country while it continues to abuse animals in this manner. If enough people express their discontent and vow to boycott the country’s tourism industry until cruel practices to animals are banned, then matters may start to change for the better and countless animals could be spared this abuse in the future.

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Images by Anissa Putois