Contributions to Zoology, 86 (1) – 2017Vincent Nijman; Daniel Bergin: Reptiles traded in markets for medicinal purposes in contemporary Morocco

To refer to this article use this url:

Volume and value of the trade

We observed that herbalists displayed protected wildlife openly on the street or in the front of their shops and did not appear concerned about regulations banning sale of the species they displayed; this allowed us to accurately assess the levels of trade. We recorded at least nine species of reptile in trade for medicinal purposes (Fig. 2). The most common was the Mediterranean chameleon, followed by Bell’s Dabb lizard, African rock python, spur-thighed tortoises, and desert monitor lizards (Varanus griseus; Table 1). These species were not equally abundant in the markets (χ2 = 657.1, df = 5, P < 0.001). The desert monitor lizard, Nile crocodile, Egyptian cobra (Naja haje Linnaeus, 1758), and puff adder (Bitis arietans Merrem, 1820) were each observed in smaller numbers than expected when compared to the other remaining species combined (all χ2 > 28.9, df = 1, P < 0.001), whereas the spur-thighed tortoise, Bell’s Dabb lizard, and Mediterranean chameleon were all observed in higher numbers than expected (χ2 > 23.4, df = 1, P < 0.001). Only the African rock python was observed in numbers that did not differ from the expected values when compared to all other species combined (χ2 = 0.20, df = 1, P > 0.60).


Fig. 2. Trade of reptiles for medicinal purposes in Morocco, clockwise from top left: (A) vendor with desert monitor lizard and Bell’s Dabb lizards at herbalist stall in Meknes advertises medicinal products; (B) herbalist stall in Marrakesh; (C) herbalist stall in Casablanca both selling dried Mediterranean chameleons and stuffed Bell’s Dabb lizards; and (D) live Mediterranean chameleon and Bell’s Dabb lizard at a herbalist in Fez. All photographs by Daniel Bergin.


Table 1. Mean number of reptiles traded for medicinal purposes in 20 Moroccan towns in 2013 and 2014. For towns that were surveyed more than once, the range is given. Values in italics include live individuals and values in normal font represent traded in dried specimens only. No snakes were identified to species. Key to genus names: T. = Testudo, C. = Camaeleo, U. = Uromastryx, V. = Varanus, C. = Crocodylus, N. = Naja, B. = Bitis, P. = Python. Snakes refers to unidentified snakes other than Egyptian cobra, puff adder or African rock python.

The volumes of the four most common species in trade in the six cities with the largest volumes of these species show that the species are not traded in equal proportions in these cities (χ2 = 38.0, df = 15, P = 0.02). Thus, Mediterranean chameleon and African rock python were observed in smaller numbers in Casablanca than can be expected on the basis of the number of these species in other markets relative to the number of other species observed in Casablanca (χ2 = 67.5, df = 1, P < 0.001 for the Mediterranean chameleon, and χ2 = 267.6, df = 1, P < 0.001 for the African rock python). Conversely, the number of Bell’s Dabb lizard in Meknes was higher than expected on the basis of the overall (across cities) proportion of this species (χ2 = 105.1, df = 1, P < 0.001).

Prices for the Moroccan species were generally low, with asking prices for spur-thighed tortoise carapace being around US$11, Mediterranean chameleons US$6–44, Bell’s Dabb lizards US$13–22, and desert monitor lizards around US$55. Skins of Nile crocodiles and African rock pythons were considerably higher, with the former demanding prices of US$388–665 and the latter US$133–665. While more expensive species were less common in trade, there was no significant relationship between the mean value and the volumes observed in trade (r = -0.26, n = 6, P = 0.61). The combined the retail value of all the items observed during the 49 surveys was about US$100,000 (MAD­900,000), with some 70% of this value made up of species not, or no longer, native to Morocco. The mean turnover for Mediterranean chameleons after four weeks in the eight shops monitored was 66% (range 40–100%), resulting in an annual turnover of 1,520 chameleons (range 921–2,303). The mean turnover for Bell’s Dabb lizards after four weeks in the six shops monitored was 66% (range 31–100%), resulting in an annual turnover of 775 lizards (range 364–1,174).