Report of our field herping trip to South Morocco between the 25th of April and the 5th of May, 2015.
During this trip, my friends Karim Chouchane and Thibault Rameau were with me.
Saturday the 25th of April
Karim and Thibault were already in Morocco and saw some nice things before I joined them. But this day was about to be the first one of an epic trip !
I left Marseille early in the morning and landed in Agadir at 9:00 a.m. After, at least, 1 hour of waiting for my luggages and identity check at the airport, I finally escaped the airport to join my friend, completly out of patience and ready to fill their "check list".
Buying some bread (as it was almost our only food down there) and we headed East to our first stop. All around us, we had these rubbish lands punctuated with Argan trees (Argania spinosa).
We finally chose one of the only place we could enter with the car and decided to check there.
That place was made of open landscapes with a few rocks to return and... BIG HOLES !
Yes, it seems to be a little bit strange for non-herpers but we love the big holes in the ground with a lot of rocks and wastes inside !
Why? Because our reptiles friends often have the bad idea to go inside and just don't realise that they can't escape. So that's a good place to find things, but also a bad one because a lot of animals may die there...
We spent the first minutes returning rocks and spotting birds. For my great pleasure because the common species there are some of my favourites ! Even if I can see them around my house here in France.
I can give some examples: Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor), Little Owl (Athene noctua) or Eurasian stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) !
The rocks were really hard for the nerves. Small rocks only with a few results... A lot of scorpions and some Camel spiders (I know some of you will not like that) of course but we also spotted 2 Mionecton Skinks (Chalcides mionecton) and a few Agadir's geckos (Saurodactylus brosseti) !
Alright, remember the big holes? That was the perfect moment to check it as the sun just arrived (yes, you have to know that the climate here does not allow the sun to show before 2 p.m ! Ok, that's not always true but most of the time it is) and flooded the holes with light !
We didn't manage to find any snakes inside, but there are as someone we met told us he saw some. Anyway, if the snakes were hiding well, that was not the case with the Algerian Orange-tailed Skink (Eumeces algeriensis) stuck there. One hand it was a very nice sighting for us, on the other hand, we saved their lives !!!
We also spotted Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica) in the holes, but these geckos are able to escape on their own.
As I arrived under a not so warm and cloudy weather, the sun was starting to kick my ass, and correctly ! So we headed South to Guelmim (as we had to sleep somewhere between Guelmim and Assa).
As mens, we had to get rid of some body fluids on the way that's true. And I have to be honnest, peeing is one of the best way to find something ! To pee or not to pee...
This is how we found or first Bibron's Agame (Agama impalearis) and our first Algerian Sand Gecko (Tropiocolotes algericus) ! During a pee stop ! Ok, I see you want me to stop about this pee story... So do I !
I saw some reports about Morocco before I came here, and I noticed one talking about Fask surrounds and the famous Horned viper. That's why we slept a few kilometers from Fask, in a very small and hard to find camping. But the price is just awesome ! 50DH for 3 (what means 5 euros !
The night is my favourite moment to look for wildlife. That's not the case for Thibault, the only one allowed to drive the car, and really not happy to do it after dark. Moreover, we drove for nothing as we didn't spot any reptile (I mean alive) on the road.
We went outside of the car for a small night walk and we had nothing to find but a Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica). I started to worry for the next days (and nights !).
Sunday the 26th of April
I woke up early (I know some persons who can't say the same) and as I had to wait for Thibault to be awake, I had some time to kill... Well the best way to do it is to look for reptiles, you may agree. And if you don't let me tell you that you're wrong.
The early morning there is already sunny but a little bit cold. The first hours are dedicated to bird songs so I just checked it and enjoyed these nice sounds and sightings as a couple of Desert wheatear (Oenanthe deserti).
The ground was a mix of sand and rock so you can easily dig it when you find a hole. Karim bought a shovel before he came here, if I disagreed with it in a first time, I have to admit that it was very useful !
I made a morning walk and returned as many rocks as possible. I also dig a hole but I forgot the shovel so I did it with my snake hook.
Not so many things excepted a few Algerian Sand Gecko (Tropiocolotes algericus), Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) under the rocks and my first Berber Toad (Amietophrynus mauritanicus) in the hole (I also spotted some tadpoles in a water hole on my way).
These sightings were almost new to me (in fact, the toad was the only one to be new) but not for my 2 friends so they were not jealous (too bad... I wish I could tell them "That's the price to pay for sleeping too much").
I was lucky enough to see them awake when I came back and we finally moved on to Assa.
Why Assa? Because not far from there, there's a nice town called Aouinet-Torkoz and you can find incredible things up there.
Just entering Fask, we stopped at a roundabout just to check some rocks. Guess what? We found something new (at least for me). A very nice Mauritanian Gecko (Stenodactylus mauritanicus) !
I don't know which one, but Karim also missed an Acanthodactylus sp.... Anyway, we're gonna find some more !
So we drove on the way to Assa and on this road, you can enjoy a real new landscape: Savana
How do we recognize Savana? Yellow grasses, lots of open field and most of all, Umbrella Thorn Acacias (Vachellia tortilis) ! Lions and elephants are missing...
We found a dead Horseshoe whip snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) on the road (no pictures sorry) and then, finally decided to stop and have a look.
Ok, we didn't find anything there if you don't count the spiders. The only lizards we found just disappeared as fast as they arrived.
Surely we didn't find anything, but we have been found by 3 guys in a blue car: Herpers !!!
And not just any herper, the magic trio composed with Franck, Sjoerd and Gerrit I already knew from internet exchanges. As they were also going to Assa, they just headed this way a few minutes before we did, but as any herper, they stopped for a lizard and we found them again a few kilometers away. They just find a Moroccan Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx nigriventris) so we also stopped to enjoy this find !
Honestly, we were happy but not as happy as if we found it ! That's why we've been trying to find our own... Who could expect them to be so easy to find? Near Assa, there are many many many of these lizards. And they are much more beautiful.
The first one we found was really pretty with its orange and yellow pattern but it had a vice: he loved to slip under Karim's ass ! Or to climb on it !
What a great lizard !!!
A perfect introduction for the town of Assa (after you've passed the usual police control). And there, we started to cry for our wallet... When your last night just cost you 50DH for 3, guess how hard it is to spend 400DH ! Because Assa does not have any camping and they just have one hostel. So you don't really have any choice.
That was a little bit expensive for us, but we had a real bed... that's a nice consolation isn't it?
Well... not that much because we spent our evening away from the room looking for snakes... Because we've been looking around during the day and I had big hopes about a place where we spotted another Bibron's Agame (Agama impalearis) !
And... BINGO ! My beloved snake, the Desert Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes) ! What a shame it had very small horns.
We spent some time taking pictures of it, just enough for an Oudri's Fan-footed Gecko (Ptyodactylus oudrii) to show up near the car.
Monday the 27th of April
Hard to wake up when you have a decent bed. Moroever when it's written "Najah" on your bed ! (Herpers will understand).
But that day was the first for us in Aouinet-Torkoz looking for White-bellied Carpet Viper (Echis leucogaster).
What a long, hot and very windy day ! With Arabian Camels (Camelus dromedarius) as only sightings on the road and frogs around the ponds, Sahara frogs (Pelophylax saharicus).
That place is full of rocks, your chances to find any snake are clearly close to 0 percent. That's pretty hard not to give up and we had the bad idea to come back to town.
Let me tell you something. That was maybe the best idea we ever had during this trip !!! As I wanted to eat something (like a tajine), we asked someone to show us a restaurant where we can go to eat that. And the guy we found was our trip superstar ! That saharaoui guy invited us to have a tea and that's where we asked him about snakes... the suite is simply epic !!!
Are you looking for snakes?
Here we have one... a very huge one ! 30 meters long at least !
That snake decimates the livestock. If you have a beast on its territory, be sure it will perish !
This snake is so huge that it reverses trucks.
The army came with an helicopter to shoot it !
No hostel that night, that will be free camping ! But before, snake time !
That time, we headed South to Aouinet-Torkoz (yes, again) for a night prospect.
On our way we found a False Cobra (Rhagerhis moilensis) on the road. A car just hit it but it was almost alright as they only hit the tail. Still able to move but with some blood in the mouth.
Bad news too, we found dead Moroccan Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx nigriventris).
Night in Aouinet-Torkoz is a good occasion to say hello to the frogs we met earlier during the day. Still looking for our viper, we stopped near their pond and started walking but luck was not with us...
Anyway, let's find another place, so we drove all night.
Crossing the village, we saw some people launching rocks on something ! Our heart just stopped as we thought it was our snake !!! Karim literally jumped out of the car. That was "just" a very huge Camel spider. You can't imagine the relief.
Second big fright when we finally spotted a snake on the road with the size and body of the one we were looking for. "No luck", it was another Desert Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes).
Of course it's a nice sighting, but understand that it's not the one we've been hoping for. Anyway I was almost as happy as if it was because this one had really nice horns.
We tried some more night driving (yes, remember how our driver loves to drive at night?) without success... Time to go to bed.
What a hard night we had, to set up the tent with that wind was a real challenge.. but to sleep inside was much more uncomfortable. I think I just slept like 35 minutes.
Tuesday the 28th of April
Needless to say, I was awake very early but this time I noticed I was not the only one (ah ah !).
Hard night means we're gonna have a decent sleep in a real bed for the next night... what means we had to spend 400DH again... OUCH !
Anyway, no time to cry on our money drop, our last day in Assa had to be glorious and the finds had to be memorable.
Back to Aouinet-Torkoz for a last day there. The hard night made my friends completely amorphous but I was not feeling better.
We stopped near the Oued Torkoz to start looking for snakes. They went East, I went West. I won't say that I'm a genious but my conquest of the West was an amazing idea as everything reptilian was on this side.
As I found a very pretty Schokari Sand Racer (Psammophis schokari), they had to recognize that the divine light just hit me on this morning (I could say "as usual", but I'm not a liar).
We've been in this town for 3 days so that's not surprising to learn that people noticed us. Enough to alert "the mayor" who's also the "sheriff". To be honnest when he came to Karim and Thibault I tried to hide waiting to know what was going on. But it didn't seem to be dangerous... In fact, he was just asking us why we where here. Try to imagine. Why do european people came to this small town, driving around all night and returning all the rocks? Strange isn't it?
The end of the morning was a succession of epic fails. We saw reptiles but we never managed to catch any and the only amphibians were very young Brongersma's toad (Barbarophryne brongersmai) who didn't want to stay for a picture !!! Loosers of the day. Time to have a rest on our bed.
As we went pretty far from our car, we had to walk a lot. Enough to find a young Moroccan Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx nigriventris).
I forgot to tell you but between Aouinet-Torkoz and Assa, there's a long road of 45km. That's long enough to spot things on the way back. And we did !
Crossing the road, we spotted a very fast Böhme's Agame (Trapelus boehmei). This little guy is supposed to have a blue throat. It had it, but it didn't last. Too bad for pictures.
Maybe we missed a lot during that morning, but we also found a lot ! We deserved a rest and as you may guess, that's what we took.
Our plans next? Still looking for reptiles, by night as usual. No wind this time and a perfect weather (temperatures were awesome).
And that's with this enthusiastic thought that we left Assa to Aouinet-Torkoz... Again and again and again !
1 hour of driving with nothing but still not a single wrinkle on our enthusiasm, that was going well until... something killed the tyre. I have to say the car rent agency f***** us on this. They gave us horrible tyres and wrote "new" on the paper. I arrived after the rental so I was not here to check it, and my friends forgot to do it. We changed the tyre but we had to come back to the hostel. End of the day !!! History does not precise if we missed something or not.
Wednesday the 29th of April
So hard to wake up after a good night... but we had to move on. The promise land was waiting for us... Tan-Tan and the Puff Adder's kingdom !
A few hours of long driving and a camping to find. This was our plan for the day until we learnt that the magic trio (remember, the herpers we met 3 days before) was around.
We found our camping (great one near the beach) and went for an evening herping. The place we found was full of rock walls, the perfect hiding for a snake. And what a shame this snake was the Algerian Whip Snake (Hemorrhois algirus) because it escaped us !!! I think I was crying when I realized we missed it.
After such a deception, we joined Franck, Gerrit and Sjoerd to have a drink in a bar before dark and night "hunting".
We went on the same road but respecting a delay to look for reptiles there. Many Mauritanian Gecko (Stenodactylus mauritanicus) and a few Helmethead Geckos (Tarentola chazaliae) only, but I was happy because I didn't see any of these before.
1:00 in the morning, I started to feel a little bit tired (ok, I was sleeping like a baby in the car). We came back to our camping which was just in front of Gerrit, Franck and Sjoerd's hostel !
Thursday the 30th of April
The best start for a day is a real breakfast with other herpers ! Well, that was only a hot chocolate but I really enjoyed it.
They had to go North, and we had to find a Puff Adder, so we had to take different ways.
We spent a nice moment together, very nice start.
Did you say nice start? Why didn't you shutted your mouth???
I'm not superstitious but why do we always need to have troubles when we start a day with a big smile ? Well, nobody died but we took a 300DH fine for speeding... I can't say anything as they were right (the had the proof)... But shit, that's not how it's supposed to be !
I heard that Cap Drââ was the kingdom of Puff Adders, so guess what? Yes, we've been on the road to Cap Drââ (you're being good at this "guess what" game !).
As soon as we found a great landscape we stopped.
And now you're thinking "WHAT? This is not a great landscape ! There's nothing there ! No vegetation and no rocks ! These guys are real noobs" what I answer you "YES THERE ARE !!! Not a lot but there are, an more important, there are Psammomys holes !".
And who do loves these holes? Wanna guess one more time? YES ! Puff Adders !
So, when your friend just screams "THERE THERE THERE !", just imagine how I was feeling. And when he said "That was a Puff Adder, it went in this hole !" I was just thinking "We got it, just have to dig this hole".
So we've been digging for more than 30 minutes trying to find the holy snake and what we found was...
Let me tell you something else, sometimes you just want to kill your friends for giving you false hopes ! Don't you? No, I'm kidding you know I'm a normal person like you and Kim Jong-un.
If you didn't guessed yet, that was not a Puff Adder (no, I'm not kidding), that was something we didn't really expected and very pretty, a Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus saharatlanticus).
Ok, I didn't have my Puff Adder but I had to forgive him. After all that was not so bad.
Believe it or not, I was still a little bit disappointed but we had some time to look for a Puff Adder again (not very easy in daylight so we were looking for tracks).
We didn't found any but there were many tracks of another reptile, the small and fast Leopard Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus pardalis).
Tired of looking for tracks and holes, we came back to the camping and had some rest. Puff Adders are nocturnal so we had to try again at night.
What we ignored was that the road was about to be close for 20 days (and we were there for only two more days). When we went to the road, the police told us "go back, you can't go there". Too bad...
We went to the very first place we've been looking for snakes in Tan-Tan. After a long hour of hard labor, we started losing hope. Perfect moment for a snake to show up don't you think? Once again you're right ! In the middle of my way, I found a little snake and had the flattest reaction ever: "Oh, a snake". Not any snake, the not so common Awl-headed Snake (Lytorhynchus diadema). An almost perfect end for that day.
Friday the 1st of May
Franck, Sjoerd and Gerrit told us that they found the second Cerastes species in a National park on the way down to Mauritania. The Khnifiss dunes. The first day of May was the perfect one to go down there !
In fact, perfect about temperatures but not for pictures. As the sky was very cloudy and we were going to sand dunes, the pictures were not going to be nice.
As they had troubles looking for snakes there (the army just chased them), we declared ourselves to the police station and they were very friendly. No troubles were supposed to happen to us after that as they said "Go play in the dunes as long as you want".
Let's go for a play time ! Yes, looking for snakes is like playing to me.
Day time on the dunes is not good for our snake, but it is for lizards such as the Golden Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus aureus) and the Dumeril's Wedge-snouted Skink (Chalcides sphenopsiformis).
Walking on the dunes is hard, and after such an exercise I had to put some fuel in my body. So we had a tajine. What? You don't give a damn about what I eat? ALRIGHT !!! I just wanted to put more text between the pictures.
So we came back on the exactly same spot at night trying to find the tracks of our lovely snake. How lucky we were ! Karim and Thibault found recent tracks and thanks to our 3 lamps with different lighting, we succeed to trace back the snake. That was maybe the best herping I ever made. Tacking a snake is so exciting !
This is how we found the wonderful Sahara Sand Viper (Cerastes vipera).
Our camping was 1 hour drive from here so we didn't spend more time even if it was a very perfect night.
Saturday the 2nd of May
Quiet day here in Tan-Tan, we were really tired so we woke up late.
We've been North trying to find a good place to look for reptiles but the police was everywhere and we had to stop near a place which was not so perfect...
Anyway, we found some Sahara Sand Viper (Cerastes vipera) tracks and missed some lizards. We also found a big snake track, but can't tell which snake and where it went.
Water holes near the road was our only real hope to find something and we were not wrong because we had some Böhme's gecko (Tarentola boehmei) inside !
I was really feeling tired this day and we asked ourselves if we wanted to go for a night herping..
But as any self-respecting herper, I can't resist to the call of the wild when we stopped somewhere. We noticed a river while coming to Khnifiss in the day before morning so we stopped here for a "short stop". At least, that was supposed to be short before we discovered that this place was a Chameleon paradise !
With the sweet melody of the African Green Toad (Bufotes boulengeri) singing loud, I trully felt like I found the paradise. Snakes were missing but we had many Common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) all around us.
Sunday the 3rd of May
2 days left... Sadly we didn't find any big snake yet and the timing was starting to be short. How bad we were feeling about this !
We came back to the Chameleon place in the morning to see if finding them during the day is easy or not... and it's not !
4 german herpers were there looking for something. They were there for 1 hour and didn't see any chameleon, that's why we were pretty happy when we found one only 5 minutes after we arrived there. They may think that we kept it all night long or we bought it at the market. If they don't think that we are pure masters !
Time to head back North to Sidi Ifni (to be closer to Agadir's airport) and as it's a long way, we didn't really stopped excepted when we saw a nice Golden jackal (Canis aureus) crossing the road. We started running after it but it was faster. We missed it.
After a long drive, we arrived in Guelmim and my friends decided to show me a nice place where I was sure to find some terrapins. I know that they are very common there !
So they leaded me to a river close to Laqsabi Tagoust and for sure, there were a lot of Spanish terrapins (Mauremys leprosa). These ones are really pretty because they have the blue eyes !
Another great find down there is the Marbled duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris)
I was happy to see these terrapins but they were not friendly for pictures, so I didn't stay that long...
We had to go to Sbouya because we knew that we an find a very special snake there, the famous Egg-eater ! The landscape up there is really different. You are not really in mountains but not far ! On the way, there were many water holes and we checked every of them !
These holes are real toad traps but we didn't spot any reptile inside... no luck !
In this region, you can easily spot a Brongersma's toad (Barbarophryne brongersmai) or an African green toad (Bufotes boulengeri) ! But keep an eye on the birds, you could miss a great picture. As we did with a Little owl (Athene noctua).
No snakes there, but that was about to change.
As you look back in the mirror of your journey, you realize that it was not so bad, but you're still missing this big snake... How lucky we were to be in Sidi ifni, because we still had chances to spot a big one !
We installed our tents ready for a rest, but the night called us, we had to look for snakes at night, at least one more time !
And this is what I really love in these trips !!! The last chance of the last day of the last opportunity, etc... And do you guess why I love it? No? How deceiving you are this time !
Because the last one is the glorious one !!!
We took a coastal road and after 20 minutes, we saw something big moving slowly ! That was our beloved snake, the Puff adder (Bitis arietans). I was absolutly not able to stop screaming, joy screaming !
How excited we were !
Full of motivation for the last hours of our night adventure, we left the Puff adder living her life and came back to Sbouya... and there, it's the drama... THE snake, the rare one, the incredibly rare one ! No, you will think "Bastards, that should not be allowed to be so lucky" but you will be wrong ! Because the Sahel egg eater (Dasypeltis sahelensis) that we found was dead on the road !!! I think we cried...
This is how to kill herper's motivation
Monday the 4th of May
Last day in Morocco !!!
Our long night obligated us to have a late sleep, what means we had a late wake up !
As Karim and Thibault came here before I arrived, they spotted some nice stuff all around. Especially a big Moorish viper (Daboia mauritanica) in a hole. I was hoping us to be able to find it again.
Not a good idea to give me bad hopes like these ! There were no snakes... On that spot, they also found a Checkerboard Worm Lizard (Trogonophis wiegmanni). But there were no such a thing or me !
Anyway, we had more chances trying to see birds, so we looked at every single bird we saw. And we spotted some nice things such as a Barbary falcon (Falco pelegrinoides).
For a last day, we had to take a last tajin. So we did in Aglou beach.
And what a coincidence, our next stop was a few meters down the restaurant ! A sandy place where you just have to follow the tracks to find the tortoises ! Because yes, we were mostly looking for it. As you may expect, sandy place means Acanthodactylus. Let me tell you that you're right ! Aren't you awesome ? To be exact, that was the Golden fringe-fingered lizard (Acanthodactylus aureus) !
Around here, you can spot the Barbary ground squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus) and the very colorful spider Eresus kollari !
Needless to say, that was not that hard to find a Moorish tortoise (Testudo graeca). I was really surprised as I expected them to be collected to be sold. And that's very close to the city...
No snakes for the last day, but can't we be unhappy after such a nice adventure? I don't think so !
I was scared to go in Morocco but now, the only thing I can say is that I really want to come back.
We took our plane the day after, full of memories and with, already, the plans of our next trip. Many destinations in our mind but it seems like Israel will be the next. Anyway, we are also ready for a come back in Morocco.
I wish you enjoyed this report and I also wish that if you plan to go to Morocco, you will enjoy a great wildlife with a lot of respect !
Have a nice day