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

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Comparing markets

Reptiles were traded for medicinal purposes in 14 of the 20 markets we surveyed in Morocco and the trade in these markets differed in several ways (Table 1). No medicinal reptile trade was observed in the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. In eight markets, we observed small numbers (fewer than nine individuals) of reptiles, often comprising one or two species; in four markets, we found intermediate numbers (14–30 individuals) of three to eight species and in two markets, large numbers (> 85 individuals) of five to nine species. There was a positive association between the size of the city (in terms of human inhabitants) and the number of reptiles for sale (Pearson’s r = 0.76, n = 22, P < 0.001; Fig. 3); this association remained significant after the exclusion of cities where no reptiles were observed (r = 0.69, n = 14, P = 0.006). In Casablanca and Marrakesh, the most commonly observed reptiles we observed in trade were Mediterranean chameleons, whereas Bell’s Dabb lizards were equally or more common in Fez and Mekness. For cities where reptiles were offered for sale, there was a positive association between the size of a city and the number of herbalists (r = 0.54, n = 14, P = 0.05), and there was a very strong positive association between the number of herbalists and the total number of reptiles for sale (r = 0.82, n = 14, P < 0.001).


Fig. 3. Relationship between the average number of reptiles offered for sale per survey in 22 cities surveyed in Morocco and the number of human inhabitants in these cities. Data are log-transformed; the maximum average number of reptiles was 163.4 (in Marrakesh) and the largest city is Casablanca with 2.9 million inhabitants.

Based on our qualitative observations, the market in Casablanca clearly was oriented towards the local population, being geographically distinct from the tourist section, and only Moroccans were observed in this area. Reptiles were mostly sold in wooden shops located in a dedicated medicinal area. In Fez, the shops with reptiles for sale were in and around the general tourist area and slightly off to the side streets. The shops in Fez were more solidly built and were more frequented by tourists than in Casablanca. Marrakesh was much more geared towards tourists and the three sections where herbalists sold traditional medicine were all located in the main market. Reptiles were sold in shops, stalls, and in ground stalls. In Meknes, ground stalls were particularly common and trade was clearly geared towards the local customers. Bottles with pictures of animals were common in the ground stalls in Meknes and Marrakesh. The vendors of these ground stalls would, in the evenings, hold up live reptiles and call out to passers-by, advertising their medicinal properties and invariably drawing a substantial crowd.

While there were differences in the species richness in each survey year between these four cities (F3,11 = 5.09, P = 0.02) (Figure 4) and in the numbers of reptiles sold alive (F3,11 = 8.44, P = 0.003) or dried (F3,11 = 4.31, P = 0.03), the proportion of dried specimens did not differ significantly between cities (F3,11 = 2.24, P = 0.14). Fez and Casablanca were similar in terms of the number of species for sale (i.e., about three to four), and in the proportion of trade that comprised dried specimens, which ranged from 68–100% (average 86%) in Fez and from 69–92% (average 82%) in Casablanca. In contrast, the trade in Marrakesh and Meknes comprised more species (about four to six) and a larger proportion of live trade; dried specimens made up 63% (range 37–83%) in Marrakesh and 59% (range 35–84%) in Meknes (Fig. 4).


Fig. 4. Trade in reptiles for medicinal purposes in four Moroccan markets surveyed between April 2013 and December 2014. Open bars are dried specimens and solid bars are live individuals (the number of dried specimens in Marrakesh in June 2013 was 234 and is outside the scale); lines represent species diversity.