Ifrane National Park
Ifrane National Park is composed mainly of Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) and evergreen holm oak (Quercus ilex) forests at altitudes of 1300-2400 m above sea level. The park contains an estimated 10% of the world’s population of endangered Atlas cedar, the world’s largest population of endangered Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) and two RAMSAR sites of global importance for birds migrating between Africa and Europe. The winter climate is particularly extreme in this region. The park includes several ski hills and some regions of the park had over 2 m of snow during our 2017 field season – a challenge for wildlife and researchers alike!
Azrou Field Site
Our permanent field base in the center of Ifrane National Park is in Azrou, a quiet mountain town best known as an attraction for hikers wanting to see the beautiful cedar forests and Barbary macaques and as a center for agriculture. In spring the region is filled with cherry blossoms and the town hosts the largest weekly souk in the region, where people from surrounding villages come to buy and sell fresh produce and other goods, providing a prime opportunity for us to talk with shepherds and farmers from throughout the region regarding human-predator conflict. The image to the right is the view from our field site window in summer, with poppy fields against a mountain backdrop. In winter this field is a favourite spot for building snowmen and sledding.
Tazekka National Park
Tazekka National Park’s forests are composed mainly of holm oak and cork oak (Q. suber), with an isolated island of Atlas cedar on the highest peak in the park, Jbel Tazekka (1980 m). The park is home to the only population of Barbary stag (Cervus elaphus barbarus) in Morocco, a species that was formally extinct but was reintroduced in the park, as well as a population of reintroduced Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia). Though less than 100 km from Ifrane National Park, the winters here are less extreme while the summers are hotter. The landscape is more dramatic than in Ifrane National Park, including gorges, canyons and waterfalls, making for a stunningly beautiful, yet challenging, work environment - especially when our transect sampling is interrupted by the vertical face of a cliff.
Taza Field Site
We have a secondary field base in the city of Taza on the northeastern edge of Tazekka National Park. Taza sits at the intersection of the Middle Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains and the city is surrounded by olive groves. As a larger city, the capital of Taza Province, our monthly expeditions allow the field team to indulge in rare luxuries such as a large grocery store and an apartment with indoor heating, air conditioning, and a laundry machine. The most impressive part of the city is the old medina walls of “High Taza” overlooking the newer portion of the city, which we pass by each morning on our drive into the national park.