Starvation looms for Morocco’s horses as tourism collapses

A doctor inspects a sick horse at the SPANA shelter in Marrakech. (AP)
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Updated 10 August 2020

Starvation looms for Morocco’s horses as tourism collapses

  • SPANA helped carriage owners provide the basics for their horses when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Morocco

MARRAKECH: Abdenabi Nouidi sold his favorite horse for $150 to help feed the others on the team that pulls tourists in carriages through the buzzing streets of Marrakech, and he is still scared about the future for the others. The prospect of starvation looms for carriage horses and other animals normally used in Morocco’s tourist mecca., since visitors have vanished during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad, or SPANA, says hundreds of Morocco’s carriage horses and donkeys are threatened amid the collapsing tourism industry. They are among the estimated 200 million horses, donkeys, camels and elephants worldwide providing various livelihoods for over a half-billion people.
The North African kingdom closed its doors to outsiders after the first virus case was confirmed March 2. It also recently issued a ban on domestic travel to eight cities, including Marrakech.
Thousands of people in the city depend on the carriage horses for their livelihood. A single horse carriage in Marrakech supports four to five families, including owners, drivers and stable boys, driver Abdeljalil Belghaoute said.
He spoke from his carriage, waiting in a line near the famed Jemaa El-Fnaa Square, hoping that someone would want a ride.
‘If you have a shop, you can close it. If you sell goods, you store them. But imagine having ... horses who need to eat, drink and get medical care,” said Abdeljalil Nouidi.
For two decades, the four Nouidi brothers have taken tourists on sightseeing jaunts in horse-drawn carriages. Now they have empty pockets and mouths to feed, both at home and at the rundown complex outside Marrakech where drivers stable their horses.
The brothers were forced to sell seven of their horses in July. Abdenabi Nouidi’s favorite, Cocotte, was among them.
“This is not something I can easily forgive myself for,” he said, recalling a promise he made to Cocotte 15 years ago to keep him forever.
The Nouidi brothers say their horses are visibly nervous and know an abrupt change in their lives may be coming. With no carriage work, the horses’ routine has been disrupted, feed is running low and stablemates are leaving for good.
SPANA helped carriage owners provide the basics for their horses when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Morocco. It delivered three months’ worth of feed to almost 600 horses in the city and the neighboring town of Aït Ourir during the country’s lockdown.
“It became very clear to us when the lockdown was first imposed that many of Marrakech’s working animals would need our help or face a dire outcome,” said the head veterinarian at SPANA’s Marrakech center, Hassan Lamrini.


200m horses, donkeys, camels and elephants worldwide are providing various livelihoods for over a half-billion people.

The center, in a working-class neighborhood, is a mecca for the city’s thousands of working animals. Since 1988, the team of vets and technicians have cared for donkeys, mules and horses free of charge.
Lamrini said the center has treated an increasing number of cases of colic, an abdominal pain that causes complications in the digestive system, often due to malnutrition. Colic can be fatal.
“There is not much in the world that matters to me more than caring for these animals. They are my entire life,” said Boujamaa Ninich, who has dedicated 50 years to working with SPANA. He spends weeks on end sleeping in a little room at the center to ensure the animals are cared for after dark.
“They give so much to their owners. There is so little that we can give back,’ he said.
Marrakech was nearly at a standstill on a recent visit. The Jamma El Fnaa Square, a vast area with hawkers, food vendors and snake-dancers, was nearly deserted.
“Only tourism can save us from this catastrophe we’re facing,” said Belghaoute, the carriage driver hoping for a fare.
The Moroccan government earlier this year launched a social media campaign to encourage citizens to explore their country, but spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases led to the travel ban for eight of the country’s top tourist cities.
Authorities counted 28,500 infections and 435 deaths as of Thursday, but experts say all counts in all countries understate the true toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing, missed mild cases and other factors.
“The longer this goes on, horses and families will struggle to survive. We’re really scared by how bad this can get,” Belghaoute said.

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.