Cirque des Fées Episode 8: Imaginary Menagerie Managers

Animals are everywhere in Morocco. Dead ones are easily spotted; scorpions on keychains, fang-toothed eels stretched out at fish markets, the head of a honey badger hanging from the ceiling at an apocathery shop. The abundance of such sights has both horrified us and yet reassured us with the knowledge that at least these animals are alive in the wild in sufficient numbers that they can be found in the souks of every small town we pass. Their living counterparts are naturally harder to spot. The most exciting critter we have seen was a Short-Eared Owl (I think) watching us in broad daylight from a nearby tree.
And bugs. Bugs, everywhere. The van is abuzz with flies. Van flies, as opposed to house flies. These transient little monsties hang around at lonely camp sites and cliff tops watching and waiting for a friendly van-hold to adopt them. The earth crawls with ants and beetles. I can only assume that the Moroccans have either been to wise or too poor to smother their land with DDT and other gruesome pesticides, as we so tragically did in the UK.

I’m about to start on a rant now, sorry. But there will be a really cute story about a baby goat soon.
It is the domestic animals that have really struck a chord with us the most. In a wealthy European city, it is easy to imagine that Humankind strode their solitary path of social evolution by sheer determination and ingenuity. Here, it is quickly apparent that, actually, people rode there on the back of a donkey. Or a horse, or a camel using a dog to help them round up the goats and sheep they depend upon for survival.

Working animals are the backbone of Civilisation and many bear the brunt of the struggle. We are often angered by the sight of a tired, underfed mule struggling along a road carrying heavy packs, especially if their master is riding them to boot. We have since come to understand that often the people are doing their best to look after their animals, but are just as tired and underfed themselves. That excuses some, but not all, the cases we have witnessed. Sadly, some people are just cruel and have little time for the creatures they exploit. In the West, if you’re not an ‘animal person’ it is easy to have nothing to do with them. Here, if you can’t afford a car (and most people can’t) you get a donkey, whether you like them or not.

Right, social commentary over. On with the nice stories about cute animals we have met. The best one was definitely the baby goat. One happy lunchtime when we were sunning ourselves by the van with our awning up (thanks Kevin – awning works like a dream!), listening to The Pixies, Flame looked up from her book.
“Goats, Holi! Goats!” she cried in delight.
Indeed, three knock-kneed goats were wandering across the little plateau we were parked at, ears flopping. Then three more. Then about thirty of them appeared over the brow of the ridge all at once accompanied by the goat-herd-ess. They strolled about happily eating all the shrubs, leftover bits of dinner, car tyres and all those things that goats love best. Then…
“Oh, wow!” Flame exclaimed. “Oh, wow!”

Oh, wow indeed. As the goat-herd-ess came closer we saw what she was carrying; a new-born baby goat. Absolutely brand new. The umbilical cord was still attached and I think that the extraordinary Berber woman who handed us her precious cargo for a hug was trying to tell us that the little tyke had just been born that morning. She only spoke Berber, not even Arabic let alone French or English, so I’m not too sure, but I think that is what she was saying. The mother goat was apparently rejecting her offspring and so the kid would have to be hand-reared, was the gist of the scenario. Poor fing. How could anyone reject anything that cute? Well we certainly weren’t going to. So as to prolong the time we could hug it, we made the goatherdess some popcorn and sat with her on a rock and helped her crack Argan nuts which she had collected to grind up for oil. The happy ending came when the kid’s mother turned up and, after a little coaxing, allowed it to suckle. My thoughts are always with that goat, I hope its mother came to love it after all.
Then there was the time we were woken before dawn by what we thought was a car alarm. But it wasn’t. It was a donkey with a very wiffly nose who had been parked by our van. Flame was quick off the mark with carrots, apples and cabbage to make friends with him. Donkey stayed with us all morning and then wandered off of his own volition.

The very same day, we were driving down towards the beach when a small caravan of camels wandered onto the road. They had no saddles and we couldn’t believe our eyes.
“I’m sure there’s no wild camels in Morocco,” I insisted.

Though these ones sure seemed to be. They rolled around in the dust and sniffed our van suspiciously whilst we took their photos. Then, of course, the camelateer turned up out of nowhere and demanded payment from us for taking pictures of his camels. This is one thing that has blighted our time here – people who demand money for photos. Occasionally you get a guy who is hungry and asks for food; fair enough. Usually though, people just want your money and then we refuse on principle.

Sorry, I’m supposed to be done ranting. But then there’s the stray dogs. These poor fellas make us really sad. Wherever we go, we sit down outside for a bit of food and they slink up from goodness-knows-where and sit a little way off looking hopeful. Most are pitifully thin and look pretty sick. Of course it’s not safe to touch them because of the risk of Rabies and that’s the hardest thing of all ’cos most of them look like they just want a hug. A few travellers we have met have adopted Moroccan strays – normally healthy-ish puppies – and given them all the jabs etc. to take them back to Europe. It pains us that we can’t do the same but we can’t afford another mouth to feed. We have done our best to leave them food, making extra rice to put out for them hoping that that is enough to keep them going until the next kind-hearted person stops by. One day, we keep telling ourselves, we will have our sanctuary and save all the animals we can. Until then, we have to just love them and leave them.

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