If you look up into a tree, you can often spot animals like squirrels and birds. But you may see a very different animal in the argan tree in Morocco: goats! Moroccan goats climb the argan’s branches to eat its fruits.
When you travel the world, you’ll find all kinds of interesting animals doing unexpected things. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll set your sights on destinations like Australia, where sugar gliders swoop through the air and quokkas snuggle up to visitors on Rottnest Island in the hopes of getting some fresh greens from the Melaleuca bush tops nearby.
But the rest of the world has some pretty interesting animal situations, too, including the tree-climbing goats of Morocco.
Many people have quite pertinent questions. What kind of goats have such extraordinary abilities? Why do they feed in this way? Please read on to find out.
Are There Goats That Live In Trees?
Yes, goats climb trees, especially to eat tasty fruits. But the goats in Morocco have taken tree climbing to a new level, and that’s just the beginning of this strange tale!
These goats are fascinating creatures. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked because they are not as iconic as other domesticated animals like horses and cows. They are not as exotic as the creatures usually featured in nature documentaries—think crocodiles, lions, scorpions, and honey badgers.
And yet, the humble goat can do awe-inspiring things, like climb up mountains via sheer cliffs that would leave all but the most expert human climbers, with all their high-tech equipment, calling out for their mamas.
A lesser-known talent of some goats is the ability to climb trees, even fairly tall ones, and balance on small branches that look like they can barely hold their weight.
This is particularly common in southwest Morocco, where food can be scarce, and argan trees produce a fruit that is particularly appealing to goats.
Suppose you visit southwestern Morocco in summer or autumn. In that case, you will notice something strange and remarkable about the trees that grow in the deserts there: perched upon their precariously thin and acutely stabby branches, you may see many domestic goats. Entire herds of them.
These “goat trees” are argan trees (also known as Moroccan ironwood) and Argania Spinosa, a fairly rare evergreen found only in the semi-arid mountains in southwestern Morocco.
A relic of the Tertiary, which lasted between 65 million to approximately 2 million years ago, these trees are hardy and extremely drought-tolerant and can live as long as 450 years.
They are economically and ecologically important to the locals because they are used for firewood and forage — and because they produce argan oil, a popular beauty product throughout much of the Western World.
Additionally, because these trees’ roots grow very deep in search of water, they protect the region from erosion and the advances of the Sahara Desert, located to the south.
Where To See Tree Goats Of Morocco?
If you want to see the tree goats of Morocco, you’ll have to travel to the Souss-Massa-Draa region in the southwestern part of Morocco. Most visitors pass through this area on their way to Essaouira or Agadir, which are beautiful destinations for any Morocco itinerary.
You will see goats adorning trees along the roughly hundred-mile road from Marrakech to Essaouira. However, these goats are most likely ‘planted by goat herders trying to make a buck.
If you want to see authentic goats that climb trees of their own free will, I encourage you to scout the area with a good local guide who can take you farther away from the main road. After all, we think tree goats are so cute because they do it naturally.
But if you don’t have time to drive around and are absolutely determined to see the goats, the ones on the side of the road may be a good option.
Why Do Goats Climb Trees?
The simple answer is that they climb trees for food.
These goats will easily climb to the top of 30-foot tall trees like it’s nothing. They congregate in precarious-looking groups, scramble up steep angles, jump from branches, and bat at tasty-looking bunches of argan nuts to bring them closer.
Watching them is a bizarre and mind-boggling show of antics that appear to defy physics.
You might recognize the name of the argan tree from the current trend in cosmetics. Argan oil is quite popular in skin and hair care products, but this is nothing new.
Indigenous Berber people (also called Amazigh) in the region have been using this oil for centuries—and they know the surprising secret of how it’s made and its unusual connection to tree-climbing goats.
What Kind Of Trees Do Goats Climb In Morocco?
Goats in search of sustenance have found a way to feed on the argan tree’s fruit. The tree has adapted to the harsh, dry climate and grows almost everywhere in southwest Morocco.
The animals climb the argan trees and eat the fruits, swallowing the core, which looks like an almond. This nut passes through the goat’s digestive system and ends up in its droppings, where it’s collected. To get at the oil inside, you must crack it open with a stone and grind the seeds inside.
The resulting cold-pressed oil is then used for cooking and moisturizing skin treatment. Most argan oil production in Morocco is carried out by small-scale cooperatives employing women.
Their branches spread out widely over several meters from the trunk. The crown has foliage and fleshy fruit that resembles a plum tree. These are the fruit that the tree-going goats in the area are adept at gorging themselves on. They cleverly climb the branches and feast there.
The argan fruit contains precious seeds. They are used to produce one of the most expensive vegetable oils, argan oil. Its price on the world market may be up to 100 dollars per 1 liter. The oil is used in medicinal cosmetology and cooking.
Goats grazing on argan trees do not eat the seeds but simply spit them out. The animals’ digestive systems cannot digest them, so they are not edible to goats.
Of course, the pips from the argan fruit touched by the animals are not used to produce such expensive oil. Otherwise, shepherds could simply pick them up and make a good profit.
If the defecation process grosses you out, it might be reassuring to know that the goats often spit out the argan seeds, too. One estimate by the Hassan II Agronomic and Veterinary Institute in Rabat, Morocco, says that up to 60% of the nuts used to make goats may spit out argan oil.
This has the added benefit of spreading seeds for new trees to grow. And it’s not just argan trees. Goats have been spotted climbing even more difficult trees.
What Type Of Goats Climbs On Trees In Morocco?
And perhaps the main question for anyone who has seen pictures or seen animals in trees in Morocco with their own eyes is: what kind of goats are they?
The Moroccan goat is, in fact, a very common goat. They are not a unique species endowed with acrobatic skills. It’s just that all goats, and many other animals, have an excellent sense of balance. This is why both adults and even little goats can easily balance on branches and tree trunks.
Seeing a goat climbing a tree might be strange for those living in temperate areas. There is no shortage of fodder from the pasture for farm animals.
We’re used to seeing goats grazing peacefully on the grass. But it turns out that ordinary goats can easily climb trees and move around on thick branches. And all that drives them there is ingenuity and persistence in their search for food.
The Story Behind Tree Goats Of Morocco?
Goats are skilled climbers known to scale steep rock faces and mountains in search of food. The ones in Morocco climb trees for the same reason – food, which is otherwise scarce in this drought-ridden region. The goats are drawn to the Argan tree’s fruit, which ripens in June each year.
The Argan grows 8-10 meters high and lives up to 150–200 years. They are thorny, with gnarled trunks, but the goats, who have been climbing these trees for centuries, have learned to adapt themselves to the task.
The goats native to this region have cloven feet. Each hoof has two toes that can spread out, providing balance and leverage, while the soles of their feet are soft and yielding, helping them to grip the bark. The animals have two vestigial toes higher up their legs, called dewclaws.
These are found on many species, including cats and dogs, but the goats’ dewclaws are much firmer and stubbier and help the creatures pull themselves up branches or lower themselves down sheer cliff faces.
The Argan is endemic to the semi-desert Sous valley of southwestern Morocco and the Algerian region of Tindouf in the western Mediterranean region. The fruit is also a valuable oil source and an important source of economy for the Berber people of Morocco.
The fruit, about 2–4 cm long, has a tough nut surrounded by the fleshy part that the goats eat. Inside the nut are one or two small, oil-rich seeds. The fruit takes over a year to mature, ripening in June to July of the following year.
Until this happens, the goats are kept out of the Argan woodlands because the animals would often eat the fruit before it’s ripe, and the leaves stunt the growth of the trees.
Traditionally, the goats were a part of the oil-producing business. The local Berber people would allow the goats to eat the fruit, but the hard nut would pass through the animal’s digestive system unharmed.
The goat excrete would then be collected, the seeds removed and ground or pressed to extract oil used in salad dressing and cosmetics. Removing the soft pulp is the most labor-intensive part of the oil-extraction process, which is why the goats were employed. Modern methods, however, have bypassed this stage because a “goaty” smell can sometimes be detected in the oil.
During the past two decades, argan oil has soared in popularity and price to become the world’s most expensive oil (about $300/liter). It is sold in Europe and North America, where it has become a fashionable product.
Planning A Trip To See Goats Climbing Trees In Morocco?
Tourism is another primary reason you’ll see goats in the trees, but before you begin packing, it’s best to think more about the trip you will be taking.
Here are some things to consider when planning a trip to see goats on trees in Morocco:
1. What bags to bring: Your travel plans and the airline’s baggage policy may dictate what bags you bring. That way, you can strategize and not overpack based on available luggage space.
2. Number of travel days: You want plenty of clothes and essentials for your trip. Make sure you pack plenty of items for the days you plan to travel. If you’re staying in a home rental with laundry facilities, you may be able to pack less and do laundry during your trip.
If you prefer to pack light, check to see if you’ll have access to laundry facilities or if there is a laundromat near your accommodation.
3. The weather situation: While the best time to see the tree-climbing goats in Morocco would be in late spring and early summer when the fruit is ripe, and to go in the morning before it gets too hot, you might want to make sure that you pack clothes that will be comfortable for the weather.
Check the expected temperature, see if there will be rain or snow, and let this information guide you when packing. If you don’t pack appropriate clothing and gear, you may have to spend money when you arrive or risk being very uncomfortable. If you have room, bring a compact umbrella.
4. What you can buy at your destination: Some items may make more sense to buy at your destination. For example, if you’re only bringing a carry-on bag, you might buy a full-size sunscreen bottle after you arrive.
When creating your packing list, note items you can easily buy at your destination to avoid wasting space.
What To Pack For Your Morocco Trip
Packing for a vacation, especially if you’re out of the habit, can be overwhelming.
Whether you’re someone who religiously makes their list and checks it twice or someone who prefers to throw everything in a suitcase last minute and hope for the best, we’ve all forgotten trip essentials. No one wants to run to the store when they arrive at their destination!
Here are a few essential things to pack for your Morocco trip:
- Pair of trousers which should be baggy and convenient. This could mean a relaxed style of jeans for men or women and sweatpants or leggings, which are suitable for camel riding.
- Comfortable undergarments that won’t ride up or fall down as you ride the camel.
- Long-sleeved loose shirt.
- A long scarf to wrap around your head to save you from sun, sand, and wind.
- A hat to protect you from both the sun.
- Walking shoes or tennis shoes or sandals which strap around your feet. Avoid wearing flip-flops while trying to snap pictures or playing with the goats. You might find it uncomfortable.
- Camera with a sand-resistant bag.
- Power bank to recharge any of your electronics.
- A small flashlight or headlamp, in case you want to visit the location of the goats at night, could be better.
- Any valuables you may have brought along, your passport, money, and credit. It’s always best when traveling to keep these items close by.
To get more details about packaging, I invite you to read our previous full guide on what to Wear When Travelling To Morocco.
For some tourists, a trip to Morocco isn’t complete without visiting the country’s tree-dwelling goats. But, according to one environmentalist, the tourist attraction in the country’s Souss Valley near the southern city of Taroudant isn’t all that it might seem to be in photos.
Have you ever seen a goat in a tree? In the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, a curious creature lives just like a funny bird. These goats have developed an interesting way of getting around – they climb! These goats can travel almost anywhere with their hooves clinging to rocky cliffs.
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