On a Moroccan road outside of Marakesh, along a dusty corridor that was once used for farming, a seemingly delightful spectacle can be seen. In the argan trees that line the road, dozens of goats perch, high in the branches, in ways that seem to defy the laws of physics. Tourists marvel at the sight, and, hopefully, leave a generous tip for these goats and their keepers.
Though the goats are natural climbers, and will get into the tree themselves to go after the pulpy organ fruit as a snack, what you are seeing here is a learned behavior. The goats have been trained to stand in the trees by their owners, and it’s a matter of life and death.
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Drought has plagued this particular area of the country for some time, and the farmers who once worked the land here have little sources of income in their crops fail. According to a 2022 article in National Geographic, at least one farmer turned to the goats-in-a-tree stunt to feed his family after his wheat crop failed in 2019. Every morning, his herd of about a dozen goats was forced up into the trees, some made to stand motionless all day (occasionally on cleverly hidden platforms among the leaves). From tourist tips, he was able to bring home about twenty American dollars per day.
But during the height of the pandemic, when tourism slowed, all but one of those goats starved to death.
Now he’s got a new herd of goats, and is back in business. But the questions about the ethics of this practice remain. Still, what other options do these farmers have for income, in a world rocked by climate change?