Morocco’s Wild Cats
Morocco has a number of national parks and reserves providing excellent opportunities for visitors to view the country’s wildlife in their natural habitat. Among the wildlife of Morocco are more than 260 species of the order Carnivora, with the family Felidae (cats) and its subfamily Felinae incorporated in the suborder Feliformia. These include cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), caracals (Caracal caracal), sand cats (Felis margarita), and wildcats (Felis silvestris).
Cheetahs are classified as vulnerable (VU) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and are therefore included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In addition to habitat destruction and environmental issues, the continued existence of cheetahs is threatened by the fact that their genetic variability is unusually low. This means that cheetahs in different parts of Africa and Asia are closely related genetically suggesting that at some stage the species experienced an extended period of inbreeding, thereby weakening their gene pool. In the wild, cheetahs are found only in Africa and southwestern Asia and they favor open grassland habitats where they use their incredible speed to capture prey. Although cheetahs are very elusive animals, they have been spotted in the reserves of Morocco.
Caracals are most readily identified by their distinctive ears with long tufts of hair. Previously thought to be a close relative of the lynx, it has been established that caracals are more closely related to servals in the cat family. These medium-sized cats are known to be very territorial and generally live alone. They are found throughout Africa and into western and southern Asia, with their preferred habitat being dry steppes and the semi-desert conditions found in Morocco.
Sand cats, also known as sand-dune cats, are found in the desert regions of Africa and Asia and closely resemble domesticated cats. They favor the arid regions of the Sahara and the Arabian Desert, and are found in the deserts of Pakistan and Iran. Sand cats can survive for months without drinking water, obtaining moisture from their food – lizards, birds, rodents and insects. They are solitary animals, but not territorial, and are known to take turns in using their burrows. Although they are unafraid of humans, they do not do well as domestic pets as they are susceptible to respiratory problems when removed from their arid environment.
Barbary lions (Panthera leo leo) were once found in the mountains of Morocco, but are now reduced to a few dozen located in various zoos. An ambitious project, referred to as the International Barbary Lion Project, has been launched, in which Barbary lions will be bred in captivity with the aim of being released into a reserve in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains where they can roam wild in their natural habitat.