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Decolonising Primate Conservation Practice: A Case Study from North Morocco

Waters, Sian; El Harrad, Ahmed; Bell, Sandra; Setchell, Joanna M.

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Sian Waters

Ahmed El Harrad


Understanding the historical context of an area enables an incoming conservationist to reflect on their role in communities and to better position themselves both politically and socially within them. Here, we explore how outside agencies and institutions, including a former colonial power, have affected and influenced local communities who share their landscape with Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) in Bouhachem forest, north Morocco. In the context of initiating Barbary macaque conservation activities, we interviewed representatives from local governmental and non-governmental organisations, city-dwellers, and villagers about the historical, political and social context of the study site. We found that villages around Bouhachem were politically and socially marginalised and discriminated against by the state and urban society. The existence of these divisions and the outside agencies’ simplistic view of villages as homogenous communities negatively influenced conservation interventions, because people resisted initiatives imposed on them without prior consultation. We found that Bouhachem villagers have been, and still are, excluded from meaningful participation in the conservation of the forest and this finding encouraged us to decolonise our own practice. We engaged meaningfully with members of the surrounding communities, and responded to news of erroneous stories about our activities by developing a project working in three villages which included all households. Based on our experiences, we recommend that all conservationists conduct historical and qualitative research to gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the communities they work in. This understanding should encourage conservationists to recognise their own social and cultural biases, and to decolonise their practice. Attending to our own position may help us to avoid underestimating and alienating people who view conservation actions through a very different but equally valid lens.


Waters, S., El Harrad, A., Bell, S., & Setchell, J. M. (2022). Decolonising Primate Conservation Practice: A Case Study from North Morocco. International Journal of Primatology, 43(6), 1046-1066.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 7, 2021
Online Publication Date Jul 26, 2021
Publication Date 2022-12
Deposit Date May 10, 2021
Publicly Available Date Dec 8, 2022
Journal International Journal of Primatology
Print ISSN 0164-0291
Electronic ISSN 1573-8604
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 43
Issue 6
Pages 1046-1066


Published Journal Article (628 Kb)

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