Meet with Sian Waters, primatologist and conservationist

Por Luna Cuadrado y Ester Solsona alumnas del Máster en Primatología de la Universitat de Girona · Fundació Mona, promoción 2014-16

sianSiân is from South Wales UK and has been working with wildlife for over 20 years specialising in primate and carnivore conservation. Siân is an interdisciplinary researcher specialising in the human dimensions of conservation. Siân is a member of the IUCN/SSC Primate and Reintroduction Groups, the European Studbook Keeper for the Barbary macaque, advisor to the Primate Education Network and represents North Africa on the African Primates Working Group steering committee. Sian is also available for conservation consultancy work

Sian Waters,

It is a pleasure for us, two first-primatologists, interview to you who are making a great conservation work and has a great history of working in the animal world. We investigated a little bit about your project and we found really fascinating and indispensable due to the worrying situation in which they find Barbary macaques. Your work is inspirational and we are honored to have a few questions to learn more about it and to know it better.

What led you to Morocco to study the Barbary macaques?

In 2003, I had just finished working on a carnivore reintroduction project and was very interested in human-wildlife conflict. The African Primates Action Plan recommended research on human-macaque conflict in Morocco and, because it was relatively close and did not require too much money, I initiated Barbary macaque population and human-wildlife conflict surveys there in 2004. At the time, it was thought that the populations in northern Morocco were fragmented and small. My research shows that these populations are not so small, and the north is the only place to see the last truly wild Barbary macaques. These populations are not habituated to people and, thanks to our inclusive conservation work, are no longer hunted or poached for the primate trade. They thus probably have a much better chance of surviving long term than other populations elsewhere in the country.

We know that Barbary macaque coexist with humans for thousands of years but are throughout the country as well? Or are there isolated populations of the human population? In this case it has been able to compare the behavior of the monkeys in the two areas? And if so, what conclusions did you get?

There are no populations of Barbary macaques that don’t experience some disturbance from people. I don’t study BM behaviour but I am sure that BMs habituated to humans, such as those in the Middle Atlas, differ in their behaviour from the populations we work with in the Rif Mountains.


by O. Cartu
by O. Cartu

We must in a conservation project include and involve local people to feel part of the project, become aware, and do not see it as going against them, quite the contrary. Although sometimes we know that the biggest handicap is that the neighboring local population is relatively poor, that could create tension or conflict. How you do to get the two sides win? How does build consensus between habitat conservation and species at the same time, the conscious and sustainable progress of the human population?

In a human oriented society such as Morocco, it is important that conservationists demonstrate they value people as well as wildlife. Villagers in remote areas such as our study site in Bouhachem are often excluded and marginalised by the state, and by urban populations. The villagers’ opinion is rarely sought. Thus I felt it of the utmost importance to engage with and include as many local people as possible. The title of my doctoral thesis is “Including People in Primate Conservation” because I invited shepherds to help me with my research and we co-produced information on macaque group locations and numbers in Bouhachem forest. We consistently engage with shepherds, sharing information about the macaques to inspire behavour change. Instead of persecuting and killing the macaques, the shepherds now protect them by saving infant macaques from dogs and ensuring that younger shepherds do not bother them. To ensure that villagers understand that the BMAC team values them as well as the macaque, we vaccinate village dogs against rabies to protect dogs, macaques, domestic livestock and villagers from this terrible disease.

We have read in a previous interview that you participate in some way in football tournaments. What do you do exactly? How do these tournaments to the conservation of macaques?

We organise the football tournament to reward the shepherds for protecting the macaques. The football match brings together village men and boys and is much anticipated every year. There are qualifiers and then a big finale. Before each match we give a short talk about the macaques and the teams wear shirts with our project logo. This ensures that the boys understand the positive link between the macaques, the conservation team and the football tournament



by My Life, the Universe and Everything
by My Life, the Universe and Everything

Morocco is a very charismatic and tourist neighboring country. A very sad image that does not leave us is the macaques bound in chains, clothing and forced to make circus numbers, it is unfortunate that people still believe that an animal can be a tourist attraction and amuse this, a long way to raise awareness yet. How currently is being regulated this subject to Morocco?

BMAC has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Direcion rif, Haut Commisariat des Eaux et Foret et la Lutte Contre le Desertification (HCEFCLD) the body responsible for wildlife protection and management. One of the aims of our MOU is to eradicate the open sale and exploitation as photo props of BMs in the region of Tangier-Tetouan in north Morocco. Since 2013 we have assisted the authorities in Barbary macaque confiscations, as well as rescuing a female macaque abandoned on a main road close to Tetouan city. We returned three of the confiscated individuals to the wild. There are now no Barbary macaques openly on sale or used as photo props in the region of Tangier-Tetouan. When macaques are confiscated the owners are automatically fined (1,000 euro per animal), which discourages the possible purchase of another macaque.

How do you think you can fight it effectively against wildlife trafficking, especially with the Barbary macaque? What do you think there are the major premises we would have to get?

We need to raise awareness against the use of wildlife as photo props both in Morocco and elsewhere in the world, and work to decrease the demand for primates as pets. In Morocco, one problem is that tourists and expatriates see very small macaques for sale and feel sorry for them, so they buy them in an attempt to rescue them. This behaviour only encourages the trade, as another macaque or two will be taken from the wild to satisfy the demand. Tourists should not forget that the person selling the macaque does not care why you buy it – he just wants the money so he can go and get more. Anyone who sees a macaque they are concerned about should contact BMAC or the relevant local authorities so that confiscation can be carried out through the correct channels, thus ensuring that people are not so eager to try and sell or exploit macaques in the future.

Moroccans have very little awareness about wildlife conservation or Barbary macaques, and do not have access to accurate, up to date information about the species. We have had success with our portable education exhibition in Morocco and in our use of Facebook as a communication tool (see attached paper). Our new initiative is to develop a network of BMAC Ambassadors all over Morocco, starting in Tangier and including three major cities, Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat. These Moroccan volunteers will receive the training and equipment necessary for them to attend events and activities to raise awareness about the Barbary macaque and to make keeping the species as a pet socially unacceptable. We are very proud to be the first recipients of the Cyril Rosen Award from the Primate Society of Great Britain for this project.

What is the most threatening danger to the Barbary Macaque at the moment? And what are you giving priority to the conservation plan?

We will continue with our research and our work to raise awareness in collaboration with the Haut Commisariat des Eaux et Foret et la Lutte Contre le Desertification (HCEFCLD). We are currently formulating a strategic plan to campaign against the use of the Barbary macaques in the square of Jmaa EL-Fnaa in Marrakech, which acts as a “shop window” for the purchase of pet macaques by Moroccans (and probably international tourists) on holiday in Marrakech .

by Marise Ijsendoorn-Kuijpers
by Marise Ijsendoorn-Kuijpers

We were surprised to learn that the Barbary Macaque is endangered by the IUCN, as when traveling through Morocco They are in many places, and gives the feeling that they are abundant. When it was discovered that they were in danger ? How many macaques are believed to be ? Are these populations isolated or have biological corridors?

John Fa warned that the macaque was in danger in the early 1980s. However, it wasn’t until 2004 that they were officially recognised as Endangered. There are probably between 8-10,000 spread between different populations. There may appear to be a lot of macaques as people generally see them in tourist locations such as Ouzoud and Ifrane National Park. In those areas, the macaques are accustomed to gathering in small areas where they know they will be fed by tourists. If you come to Bouhachem, you may not see any macaques as they are not habituated to people and therefore find their own food, which is a time-consuming business.

We have read that you are part of IUCN, what is your function?

I am the Primate Specialist Group’s contact for any issues concerning Barbary macaques, and I am a member of the Reintroduction Specialist Group. I am also the representative for North Africa on the newly formed African Primates Working Group.

What do you think about what are the basic needs of a Barbary macaque who is in a sanctuary or a zoo? Will we could give advice? For example we are studying at the Mona Foundation, and there are 4 macaques rescued. What do you think is vital for them?

Observing Barbary macaques in the wild reveals that they spend lots of time on the ground foraging in leaf litter, and lots of time socialising with one another. Give them an interesting substrate and scatter and hide lots of very varied food in that substrate so they can spend time foraging. If you would like to interact with people working with in captivity then we have a Facebook group for Barbary macaque keepers where they share enrichment ideas and other information about the groups of macaques they work with.


In a conservation project as important as you are carrying out, we assume that you should find many obstacles. Fundraising is a complicated issue, get influential contacts we suppose it is not easy, adding the problems you may encounter with the law and the Government management, how do you get? How does he do it? Can you explain an anecdote?

It is difficult to get people excited about a sandy coloured macaque as the larger charismatic primates are always going to attract the most attention. We have many wonderful and loyal supporters and volunteers, and we do a lot on very little. However, we could do much more if we had more funding. For instance, we are trying to finish the first conservation and education centre in Morocco . When we are able to live there permanently, we can build accommodation to house confiscated macaques, assess them physically and psychologically and then, if they meet the criteria, release them straight into wild groups. This strategy means that these macaques won’t spend the rest of their lives in captivity with all the welfare and economic restraints that entails. The centre is very close to the forest so we will be able to provide the confiscated macaques with natural foods to prepare them for a return to the wild whilst they are undergoing health checks and assessments.


Sian Waters durante su trabajo en el Rif

Tell us how your day is. How is your daily life when you are in Morocco? And in Wales?

When I am in Morocco, I could be visiting some of our collaborators at the Abdelmalek Essaaddi University or the regional HCEFCLD, or I could be in the forest observing and counting macaque groups, catching up with our shepherd monitors, and training our Moroccan conservation intern, who we hope will be the first Moroccan primatologist. In Wales, I spend my time preparing funding proposals, preparing papers for publication, and updating the EAZA European studbook for the Barbary macaque. I also work as a consultant to other conservation projects who wish to evaluate their work from the viewpoint of local communities . (More information here:

What are your future plans?

I hope to continue to work with the Barbary macaque in Morocco as well as sharing my skills and expertise in the development and evaluation of conservation projects with other conservation professionals.


by Kjell Joran Hansen
by Kjell Joran Hansen

We hope that in the not too distant future, we may be doing a great job as primatologists like you. Could you give us some advice so that we can achieve to a large conservation project as yours?

Prioritize ethnographic data collection over that of ecological data so you know how people perceive and behave towards your focal species before you begin to develop conservation strategies. Conservationists often believe that local communities value primates intrinsically, but this is not always the case. Thus it is important to find out how local communities see primates before you begin to work with them.

We hope to meet you someday. It would be a pleasure for us visit you to the Atlas and Riff, or where you are, and to working with you, and helping you in your project.

You’d be very welcome.

Thank you for this interview Sian and especially for your great work!

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about my favourite subject – primate conservation!



Publicado por Máster en Primatología

Máster en Primatología organizado por la Fundació Innovació i Formació de la Universitat de Girona y promovido por la Fundació Mona. Cursos de Postgrado en Primatología. Prácticas reales e investigación con primates en santuarios, centros de recuperación y primates en libertad.

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