After half a year of planning, and loads of emails back and forth between myself and the Barbary Macaque Project I had finally arrived in Azrou.
I stepped off the coach from Marrakech and my first thought was “I should have brought more clothes!” Sandra greeted me wearing walking boots, thick trousers, 2 jumpers, a fleece a waterproof jacket and a woolly hat; I was wearing shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops. It definitely wasn’t the 30° I’d been expecting. I had a a quick tour of the apartment then unpacked and promptly fell asleep. It had been a tiring few days of travelling.
The following day I was woken by Sandra knocking on my door. Somehow I had slept in! Not a great way to start my time with the researchers. However things only got better from there on in.
During my time in Azrou we got up to all sorts including:
– Visiting a cherry festival (after it had finished!)
– Celebrating a decisive football victory against Algeria with a few thousand Moroccan men
– Camping in the forest in a huge thunderstorm.
– Hitching quite a few rides from friendly Moroccans
– Eating a lot of cheap but extremely delicious food.
But that is not the reason I was in Azrou. As Sandra has written here previously, I was here to film the Macaques as part of my MA degree in Wildlife Documentary Production. I’ve always been fascinated by primates and this was a fantastic opportunity to get close to them in the wild.
Macaques Grooming in the Trees
And you can get close, really close! It took a few days for the macaques to get used to me and my hayfever induced sneezing, but my presence was soon accepted by the macaques (although they took a while longer to get used to my tripod). In the UK the only wild mammal you can really get close to is a squirrel, but here I was standing or sitting within a few feet of a wild monkey. It was fantastic. Everyday as the researchers were taking down their recordings I would just stand and enjoy
being close to such cool creatures.
This however didn’t mean that they were easy to film. The high contrast lighting conditions in the forest meant that the macaques could only really be filmed before 10:30 in the morning and after 15:30 in the afternoon. This gave me lots of time to enjoy watching them (and for the odd little nap!) but it also meant that I only had a relatively small window each day to capture their interesting behaviours. They are also really fast, and as per murphy’s law anything that did happen would either be over before I managed to film it, or happen out of range of the camera. This combined with the steep terrain, a mass emergence of ear-wigs, my constantly running nose, overheating equipment, getting peed on by infants and enormous thunder storms, to name a few, meant that filming was always a challenge!
One of the things that I noticed, and hadn’t been expecting, was the monkey’s flatulence! I suppose I would be the same if I ate grass, ants and flowers all day, but you never see or hear it on wildlife films. It made my “inner 13 year-old self” giggle each time I heard a monkey break wind – I couldn’t help but smile!
Over my month in Azrou one of the most special things was witnessing the infants grow up and gain massively in confidence. Their fur was jet black when I first arrived and got more and more golden throughout my time there. They went from barely leaving the safety of an adult’s back to climbing 40ft up into trees on their own. These little creatures that initially looked like little wrinkly old men have captured my heart with their bravado and inquisitiveness. I’m definitely going to have to return to see how they’re getting on.
As intrigued by me as I was by them
I would like to thank the researchers for their assistance and support while I was there. I have upmost respect for what they do. While I was enjoying my time atching and filming the monkeys they were working (very) hard recording each movement the monkeys made. They knew each monkey individually and were able to give me insights into their personalities and what to look out for and from which macaque. Without them I could not have made the film.
Sandra working hard
If you want a sneak peek of some of the sequences from the film then please head over to my website bentuttonphotography.co.uk. I’ve also got some more in depth blog posts about my time in Morocco on there so have a look around and let me know what you think.