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

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Species in trade and their medicinal uses

Over 95% of spur-thighed tortoises observed in trade were alive and intended to be sold as pets. The largest numbers were offered for sale as pets in Marrakesh and Casablanca, where they were often displayed in large plastic boxes in front of the shops. We recorded 57 carapaces, found in eight of the 20 cities surveyed. The highest numbers we recorded were in Marrakesh and Casablanca, both with up to 10 carapaces per survey, but generally numbers of carapaces were low.

The most commonly traded reptile was the Mediterranean chameleon, which was offered for sale in half of the markets surveyed. We recorded 720 individuals, 214 of them alive and 506 dried and stuffed. Numbers were highest in Marrakesh (74 alive, 282 dried, recorded in each survey with up to 237 per survey) and Casablanca (24 alive, 159 dried, recorded in each survey with up to 106 per survey), but the species is also frequently traded in Rabat (61 alive, none dried, recorded in all but one survey with up to 32 per survey). We recorded chameleons only once out of six surveys when we found 55 dried specimens in Meknes in April 2014. There was a clear relationship between the number of herbal shops in a city and the number of chameleons that were offered for sale (r = 0.58, n = 14, P = 0.03; Fig. 4).

Bell’s Dabb lizards were traded in significant quantities in 10 cities: 428 individuals (181 live, 247 dried or stuffed), with highest numbers in Marrakesh (98 live, 100 dried) and Meknes (42 live, 30 dried). Just as with chameleons, there was a clear relationship between the number of herbal shops in a city and the number of Bell’s Dabb lizards that are offered for sale (r = 0.66, n = 14, P = 0.01; Fig. 5). We were informed that burning them was helpful for your eyes and that keeping one in a new house brought good luck.


Fig. 5. Relationship between the number of herbal shops in a city and the mean number of Mediterranean chameleons (open squares, upper regression line) and Bell’s Dabb lizards (filled circles, lower regression line) for sale in 14 cities where reptiles are sold for medicinal purposes. Data are log-transformed. The maximum number of herbal shops was 41, the maximum number of Mediterranean chameleon was 71.2 individuals, and the maximum number of Bell’s Dabb lizard was 39.6 individuals, all in Marrakesh.

We recorded small numbers of desert monitor lizards, with one live individual in Meknes, two live individuals in Marrakesh, five stuffed in Sale, and four stuffed in Fez. One vendor had a bottle with liquid in which he claimed there were monitor lizard parts, advertised as Sahara Medicine, but we were unable to verify whether or not the species was indeed bottled. Desert monitor lizard parts were said to increase virility.

We observed Egyptian cobras, puff adders and other unidentified snakes in Marrakesh (81 live specimens) and in Meknes (14 specimens) only. We were not able to determine how the snakes were used when alive, although they may have been displayed to draw in the crowds. We saw African rock python skins in eight of the 20 cities. The largest numbers we observed were in Marrakesh (122), Fez (32), and Rabat (17). We observed 52 Nile crocodiles, either as skins (27) or as stuffed specimens (25) and we observed the highest numbers in Fez (18) and Marrakesh (22). African rock python skins have been used as relief for asthma, but it is unclear what medical uses skins or the stuffed crocodiles have.