Explore Iriqui National Park
Covering an area of 123,000 hectares between the southern foothills of the Anti-Atlas and the Draa River, the Iriqui National Park lies in Morocco’s provinces of Tata and Zagora. Recognized as a National Park in 1994, the area consists primarily of typical Moroccan desert landscape, with wooded steppes and acacia studded savanna. Some of the sand dunes of the park are covered by vegetation of the Tamarix genus, which thrive in arid and saline soil conditions. These evergreen or deciduous flowering shrubs and trees grow in dense thickets and are characterized by their slender branches which start off smooth and reddish brown when the plant is young, taking on a bluish hue as they age. Also known as tamarisk or salt cedar, the plant’s grey-green leaves overlap each other like fish scales along the stem and encrusted salt can often be seen on the leaves.
When the park was created in 1994, one of its main objectives was to rehabilitate the wetlands of Lake Iriqui as these serve as a stopover point for some migrating water birds, with others remaining there for the winter. Birds that can be spotted in the Iriqui National Park during wet periods include coots, geese and flamingos. Other birds resident in the park include ostriches, bush shrikes, wagtails, stilts, and Houbara bustards which are considered by the IUCN to be vulnerable from a conservation standpoint. In Morocco there is a conservation and breeding project based near Agadir, where these rare birds are bred in captivity and released into the wild in an effort to increase the population.
Other animals likely to be seen while visiting Iriqui Park include Barbary sheep, Dorcas gazelles, hyenas and oryxes. Barbary sheep and Dorcas gazelles are both considered by IUCN to be vulnerable and are protected species. Not so easily seen are the smaller creatures of the park, such as its reptiles which include lizards, geckos, chameleons and a variety of snakes.
There are a few families permanently settled within the boundaries of Iriqui Park, but the majority of the people living in this area follow a nomadic or transhumance lifestyle, moving to find good grazing for their livestock. With the increased interest in ecotourism, Iriqui Park has been receiving more attention from visitors to Morocco in recent years. Visitors to any of the surrounding towns and villages – Merzouga, Zagora, Foum Zguid, Guelmim, Tata and Tan-Tan – may want to take some time to explore this picturesque park in Morocco.