June 2013 – Marrakech – Ourzazate – Merzouga – Skoura – Marrakech

By Clive, Matthew and Ashley Brignull

Day 1:

Arrived in Marrakech in the early evening. After picking up our Dacia Logan from the airport we were quickly introduced to the Moroccan style of driving as we made our way to the hotel.

Day 2:

We spent our first day in Morocco being regular tourists, exploring the markets and other sights of Jemaa el Fna (Marrakech’s old town).


Inside the market at Jemaa el Fna. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

View of Jemaa el Fna at night. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

Day 3:

We set-off from Marakkech towards Ouarzazate. We stopped at a stream before reaching the Atlas mountains for a quick look and found Spanish terrapins (Mauremys leprosa) and a Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca). We also saw many small Common toads (Bufo bufo spinosus?). After reaching Ouarzazate, we had a meal in the hotel and then decided to go for a night-crawl. Along a quiet stretch of tarmac road we found Moroccan toads (Amietophrynus mauritanicus), as well as seeing many Camel spiders and small rodents. However, unfortunately no snakes were seen.


T. graeca. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

M. leprosa. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

B. bufo. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

A. mauritanicus. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

Day 4:

We left Ouarzazate and headed towards Merzouga, following the Southern route. We saw many Agamas and Uromastyx from the car, as well as ground squirrels, but even after multiple attempts they proved too fast and timid for us to get a good photo. We reached our guest house in Merzouga and that evening undertook another night search, firstly exploring the sand dunes that bordered the oasis by foot and then driving down the road towards Taouz. Disappointingly, the only live creature spotted was an African hedgehog. However, we did find a DOR Horned viper (Cerastes cerastes). We were confident that this would not be the closest we would come to finding a snake and so unfortunately failed to take a photo.


As close as we could get to an Agama. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

Wild Camels?. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

The “road” towards our guest house. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

Day 5:

We got up early in the morning and searched around the same areas as the night before, hoping that we would have more luck in the daylight, with the possibility of following tracks in the sand. No clear tracks of lizards or snakes could be identified and similarly no species were seen. That evening we decided to try another night search, spending even longer than we had done the night before, but again with no success. However, upon returning to our accommodation we discovered many African green toads (Pseudepidalea boulengeri) were living in the courtyard gardens.


Exploring on the dunes. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

P. boulengeri. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

Day 6:

We began our return journey, driving on the Northern route from Merzouga to Skoura, so as to visit both Dades and Todra gorges. In the streams at the gorges we found many Saharan frogs (Pelophylax saharicus), but nothing else. The roads were winding and treacherous, particularly for lorries, as evidenced by our pictures. After arriving in Skoura we completed yet another night search. This time looking along a dried river bed and around a lake. Once again we had no luck and found nothing.


Todra gorge. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

P. saharicus. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

Dades gorge. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

The route back from Dades gorge. Photo: © Ashley Brignull.

Day 7:

We left Skoura and arrived back in Marrakech by mid-afternoon. By this time the amount of driving and Moroccan roads seemed to have taken their toll on our hire car, which was now experiencing many faults (loss of power steering, malfunctioning fuel gauge, warning lights …). We opted against venturing far from the city for fear of a breakdown and so we had to call our searching to an end.

Conclusions:

We were obviously disappointed with the lack of species found and are struggling to explain why this was the case. Apart from a few Uromastyx, Agamas and the one dead viper, we surprisingly saw no reptiles on roads, either alive or dead, despite a lot of miles being covered both day and night. Similarly, we had many short stops from driving where we often did some searching, and these too were largely unsuccessful. Perhaps the weather encountered was to blame? Temperatures were very hot (up to 44ºC in the day and 35ºC at night) and also the Saharan region we visited had experienced a sand storm a few days before our arrival.

Despite our lack of success with the herps, we still thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Morocco. The craziness of Marrakech was something to behold, and it was a great place to look around, especially at night. In contrast, the remoteness and sparsity of the Saharan region was unlike anywhere we had visited before. Hopefully, we will be returning to Morocco again in the near future.