by Our Foreign Staff, The Telegraph, April 23, 2019
It was a picture too goat to be true.
Visitors to Morocco have long flocked to the roads outside Marrakech to take photographs of goats who climbed into the low boughs of the Argania tree.
Such pictures are widely shared on social media and often decorate the pages of guide books to Morocco.
But an investigation by Aaron Gekoski, a British environmentalist photographer, has uncovered that the tourist destination seems to be an exploitative scam.
Local farmers appear to be bringing the goats in from other areas and forcing them into the trees before charging tourists to take photographs of them.
When the goats eventually tire from balancing on the tree branches they are brought down and new goats are swapped in.
"After seeing tourists' interest in the tree-dwelling goats, some opportunistic farmers decide to manipulate the situation for financial gain,” said Mr Gekoski.
"I heard they even brought goats in from other areas, built platforms in the trees and now cajole the goats into the trees, charging tourists to take photographs.
"They will take the goats home in the late afternoon, before coaxing them back into the trees at sunrise.
"The goats are incredibly nimble and dextrous when it comes to navigating the trees, though generally they just stand in one place, looking rather sick and forlorn.
"All the tourists who visited seemed blissfully unaware though and 'oohed' and 'ahhed' before taking photos and selfies.”
Mr Gekoski has hosted a number of environmental television programmes and is currently working on a campaign to end cruel wildlife tourism attractions. The Morocco investigation was part of that work.
He said: "The goats are often rotated halfway through the day as they get tired.
"It's incredibly hot work standing in a tree all day and generally the goats are in poor condition and very skinny.
"There were also almost no older goats, which I heard get eaten.
"The farmers will also hand over young goats, known as kids, for photo opportunities in front of the trees.
"Also, having so many goats in one place threatens the sustainability of the trees as their hooves damage the branches.
"Elsewhere in Morocco, women will harvest Argan oil by hand, which is more ethical and environmentally friendly."
Dr Chris Draper, head of animal welfare and captivity at the charity Born Free, said: "Images of goats in trees have become iconic, suggesting a rural idyll where crafty and agile animals have learned to make the most of their environment
"Sadly, the reality seems to be that this is anything but natural, and is instead an exploitative set-up, designed to snare unsuspecting tourists to pay to take pictures.
"The animals are unable or unwilling to move from where they are placed in the trees by people.
"This means that they will be unable to move into shade or to forage in a normal manner.
"The situation is likely to be very stressful for the goats, made worse by being placed next to a busy road and with streams of visitors stopping to take a look.
"This is just one of several issues of which we are aware in Morocco where animals are being abused to cater for a demand and provide photo opportunities for tourists.
"Born Free urges everyone to keep an eye out for animals while travelling and on holiday: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
"Born Free will soon be launching our new initiative, Raise the Red Flag, to collate public reports of animals in need, and to provide people with the tools to make their voice heard for animals."