I recently got back from a very lovely ‘beat the January blues’ break in Marrakesh, Morrocco with a friend for a few days and had a great time exploring the Souks and Medina of the old town. The hustle and bustle, spices, lamps, lanterns, olives and other rich foods provided plenty to take in, but sadly there were also some sights I didn’t find so enjoyable. In the main square ‘snake charmers’ had various snakes on display on the baking hot ground for entertainment of tourists and local alike. Egyptian cobras and puff adders were proudly displayed, the cobras being repeatedly goaded so they would rear up and display their hoods for photo opportunities. Both these species I learned are now threatened due to over collection in Morocco, and both are highly venomous. The secret to these snake charmers ability to handle them is that they have their mouths sewn shut so they cannot bite soon after capture from the wild. Because they cannot open their mouths they cannot eat or drink and therefore slowly die of starvation and dehydration. I saw one large cobra tossed aside having perished in the heat.
In the markets themselves there were countless animals and animal products for sale, mainly reptiles and a few birds. Stacks of cages containing wild collected tortoises, chameleons and spiny-tailed lizards (Uromastyx spp) were displayed in the baking heat, many of their occupants dead or dying again through stress and dehydration. The merchants were keen for me to stop and take photos or handle the animals, for a small fee of course. I purposely avoided eye contact or photographing any of these animals as to do so would only encourage the practice in future. So as heart-breaking as it was, I had to ignore the obvious distress and suffering of these creatures. Perhaps most heart-breaking of all was the sight of a beautiful wild kestrel panicking in a tiny cage as countless passers-by came through the laneway into a busy square. On my first morning at breakfast I had seen kestrels flying over the city, and admired the freedom and majesty of these charming birds of prey. To see one locked in a tiny cage for sale with broken tail feathers was a sorry sight. I contemplated buying the bird and releasing it, but knew it was the wrong thing to do as they would just go out and recapture her or another falcon to sell again.
I thought of the bird a lot over the following days, as I have a longstanding fascination and awe for birds of prey. Bizarrely on my return to work the following week I got a call from a receptionist in a nearby practice asking for advice on what to do with a bird of prey a member of the public had found on the roadside. I gave first aid and shock treatment advice to give it the best chance overnight, and collected it the following day to bring to my clinic, investigate it’s injuries and hopefully rehabilitate it back to the wild. It turned out to be another female kestrel! She was a beauty, and thankfully just appeared to be concussed and in shock from a suspected collision with a vehicle. I X-rayed her to rule out any fractures or gunshot injuries, and treated her with some fluids, tube feeding and anti-inflammatories.
The following day she was much more sprightly and enthusiastically ate several mice and chicks. I fed her up for two days and then released her back to the wild as you can see in the video on the link below. I like to think I was given the opportunity to repay some karma for the captive kestrel in Morocco that I couldn’t save!