Born to be Wild

Project for the survival
of the endangered
Barbary Macaque.

Snatched and illegally traded

For years, the requests for shelter for Barbary macaques at AAP had been increasing. Research confirmed the worst: the Barbary macaque is on the verge of extinction. Less than 10,000 Barbary macaques are still living in the wild (Morocco and Algeria), while in 1977 there were about 23,000…

Baby Barbary macaques are snatched from the wild by poachers and then illegally traded. The animals then end up as pets or tourist attractions. In addition, the natural habitat of the Barbary macaque is rapidly being destroyed. High time for action, because the Barbary macaque must not become extinct!

The animals are Born to be Wild.

Born to be Wild

Born to be Wild is an international cooperation project to secure the survival of the Barbary macaque. AAP launched the project in 2017 in close collaboration with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and numerous other organizations. Born to be Wild gives an ambitious follow-up to the work of MPC (Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation), founded in 2003 by a former AAP employee with a heart for the Barbary macaque.

Born to be Wild consists of three main components:


  • Immediately preventing the poaching of young Barbary macaques;
  • Discouraging the smuggling to mainland Europe;
  • Providing (emergency) shelter for Barbary macaques that are confiscated.


  • Ensuring the protection of Barbary macaques by the Moroccan authorities and the Moroccan public;
  • Facilitating monitoring, law enforcement and the criminal prosecution of smuggling and trafficking.


  • Protecting the habitat of the Barbary macaque and facilitating its recovery;
  • Establishing a structure and revenue model to sustainably finance and continue activities in Morocco.


IFAW organized all the activities in Morocco for a period of three years, AAP coordinated the activities in Europe (especially Spain and Italy). In addition, AAP involved several cooperation partners in the project, the most important of which are:
  • Moroccan authorities (national, regional and local)
  • Spanish authorities (national, regional and local)
  • Eurogroup for Animals (Brussels)
  • Asociación Nacional para la Defensa de los Animales (ANDA, Spain)
  • Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV, Italy)
  • TUI Travel Association (Europe)
  • All for Nature (The Netherlands)
After the project period (2017-2020), IFAW ended the collaboration and AAP decided to continue the project independently. For this purpose, AAP Marocco was established with the ultimate goal of a sustainable handover of the project to the local population and authorities.
Born to be Wild would not have been possible without the enormous support of the participants of the Nationale Postcode Loterij. AAP received over €1.3 million from the Nationale Postcode Loterij in 2017 to carry out this project to protect the Barbary macaque.
NPL logo 2011 FC int

The problem

The biggest threats to the Barbary macaque are poaching, illegal trade and destruction of its habitat. Research in 2008 was crystal clear about the consequences if nothing was done: the irrevocable extinction of Barbary macaques in the Middle Atlas Mountains. And if this largest population of Barbary macaques in the world disappears, it could mean the demise of the entire primate species within 15 to 20 years.

Poaching and illegal trade
  • Hundreds of mostly young Barbary macaques are poached every year.
  • By far the most poached Barbary macaques are illegally traded to Europe, where they end up as pets or as ‘photo models’ to be photographed with tourists.
  • European seizures show that most animals are smuggled in a suitcase, bag or under a seat. They are then sedated with a sleeping drug. It is unknown how many animals do not survive this, but without a doubt the mortality rate among (baby) Barbary macaques is high.
  • The Barbary macaque is the most seized endangered mammal in the European Union and one of the most registered primate species at AAP.
Destruction of habitat
  • The last Barbary macaques in the wild live in fragmented areas in northern Algeria and in Morocco. About half of all remaining Barbary macaques live in Ifrane National Park, a national park formed by the forests of the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
  • Habitat destruction is due to climate change, overgrazing, illegal logging and charcoal production.

The approach

At the heart of the project is a team of enthusiastic scouts operating in Ifrane National Park, a nature reserve in the Middle Atlas Mountains. These scouts patrol the park day and night to spot illegal activities and keep an eye on the fifteen groups of Barbary macaques that live closest to the park’s tourist zones. They also listen to the concerns of local fruit farmers and educate tourists.

At the same time, educational classes are offered in schools; in 2020, more than 30 schools around the national park were visited to explain to students the benefits of the Barbary macaque. Finally, local authorities receive training in the successful seizure of intercepted animals and learn about international agreements such as CITES, CMS, AEWA and CBD.


The scouts in the park have been keeping accurate records of the size of the groups of Barbary macaques. During the 2008 survey, half of all young animals still disappeared from the groups that lived closest to tourist areas. Now we see a clear growth. Compared to 2008, the most affected groups have now more than doubled in number. This is a great result of the work in Ifrane National Park.

During the first three years of Born to be Wild (2017-2020), the population grew by 9.5% annually. This means that the monitored groups have grown by 32% in total – an increase of 86 Barbary macaques. The actual impact is even greater, as several groups have split into two groups due to the growth. Some have moved to new areas that are not under study and thus are not counted.


Behind these figures are many remarkable stories. Like the time in November 2019 when candy sellers in the park saw a young Barbary macaque being taken away in a car. They knew what to do and thanks to the cooperation of authorities, police and the scouts, the poachers could be apprehended, fined and the young animal returned to the group within 24 hours. A group of scouts was also able to prevent animals from being smuggled after being alerted by vigilant villagers. The preventive effect of such actions, which occurred regularly during the project, contributed immensely to the project’s success.

The scouts have improved cooperation between local authorities thanks to our agreement with the Moroccan Department of Water and Forests. Promising results have been achieved in the area of illegal logging and the local police have been supported in various ways. Also, with the help of the fire department, numerous campfires have been extinguished to prevent further habitat loss.

Still to do

The data collected by the scouts provided valuable scientific data on the population of Barbary macaques in Ifrane National Park. Consider the effects of tourism on the Barbary macaques, interactions with the apes, the impact of the scouts’ tourism efforts, and the special case of a cub that was adopted by a neighboring group. These findings have been and are being published in scientific journals to demonstrate the effectiveness of the project.

It also allows us to make informed recommendations for further protection of the Barbary macaque and other endangered species.

Financial support

The financial support of De Nationale Postcode Loterij makes it possible to continue the project. The danger for the Barbary macaque is not over yet, so further building on the achieved results remains necessary!

Therefore AAP Morocco has been founded and Imad Cherkaoui has been appointed as director of Born to be Wild. Part of the job is to set up a rehabilitation and release program for the rescued Barbary macaques. The ultimate goal is to sustainably transfer the project to the local authorities, so that the community scouts can continue with their important work.

Born to be Wild in the media
Tim Huijsmans, the young founder of Faunawatch and protector of endangered species, visited Born to be Wild in 2018. Up close, Tim learned how this special species lives, what the threats are, and how the project's scouts work to protect the ape and their habitat. Watch the three video reports from Tim's visit!