March 2012 – Marrakech-Tiznit-Guelmim-Tantan-Agdz-High Atlas

By Stéphane Clerc

Day one:
I arrived in Marrakech at 10h30 where a car were suppose to be there for me… but no car… the airplain company didn’t make the paperwork so I had to wait 5 hours to get my car… But it didn’t matter, I just wanted to go herping. So I took the road to the south. After 2 hours of driving, I made a break just to see if I could have the neophyte’s luck. I found a skin of Psammophis schokari (I thing but I’m not sure) but no alive snake close there. I went to Tiznit to have a good rest.

Day two:
I woke up early, took the car and drove to Guelmim. I saw my first Agama impalearis and a lot of birds. I arrived to Guelmim, took my tent, had a meal and then go to the closer Oued for herping. I found a turtle (Mauremys leprosa), some frogs (Pelophylax saharicus), lizards, birds but still no snakes. I met Hussein, an incredible Aissaoui which invited me for a tea. We talked a lot about snakes and he proposed me to go herping together the next day (without paying, pay to snake hunters is collaborate with the Moroccan snakes destruction).


Agama impalearis. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Athene noctua. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Day three:
An amazing hot and strong wind started to blow and increased the temperature to 38º… We walked 3 hours and Hussein taugh me to recognise the different snakes tracks. Of course we found nothing, not even a tail or a track but it was really instructive for me. The afternoon, I decided to go somewhere else to see but the wind were everywhere… So I went to Tan-Tan and it was worse. Wind, just wind and desert tempest… But I kept my moral, return to Guelmim and tried to sleep.. what was totally impossible!

Day four:
The wind blew all the night without even a stop and continued the all day. I started to think about a curse or something like that… I tried to herp but it was just impossible… after 1 hour I was totally exausted. Still 35º, I decided to rest a bit. At night, the wind finally calmed down and after midnight I found my first snake !!! A real fat Bitis arietans, a male, and 500 meters later, I found another Bitis arietans, a female, as big as the other one. I was really happy.


Bitis arietans, male. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Day five:
No more wind but a lot of clouds this day. I didn’t care, wook up at 6 and went herping. Again a lot of lizard and birds and a track of Bitis arietans which I followed but didn’t find anything, and then, at 10.50, about 10 meters on my right, I saw something quite big and black… Unbelievable, a Naja haje legionis!!!!!!!!!! My god I’ve never been so exited in my life!!!. I approched very slowly, the snake didn’t move. I took it and spend an hour with it making pictures. Probably the best moment of my life! I let the snake go and went back to the camp. I decided to take the road to Agdz but it was late and I was really tired so I stopped to sleep.


Naja haje. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Habitat close Guelmim. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Day six:
On the road again to Agdz. I had a meal and went herping. Lizards, birds, lizards… and a Psammophis shokari, a male under a rock. I herped at night but I found nothing except scorpions and barking dogs…


Psammophis schokari. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Day seven:
A full day of herping and nothing but a possible skin of Echis leucogaster… It gave me courage to continue but still nothing… I had two days left and I really wanted to go to the High Atlas, so I arrived at 21h in the Ourika Valley and slept.

Day eight:
Woke up at 6 and went to the High Atlas. I found a lot of lizards (Quedenfeltia trachyblepharus), scorpions and insects but I couldn´t find my priority: Vipera monticola. At 1400 a big storm began so I went back to my hotel.


Quedenfeltia trachyblepharus. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Day nine:
Last day, I went back to the High Atlas but I didn´t find snakes. I talked a lot with the local people and all of them told me that it was to early in the year, that they had never seen a Vipera monticola before may, which must be possible because I really searched and I found not even a skin. And the night were really cold (about 0º) Then at 14:00 again, the same storm as the day before… So I decided to go back to Marrakech. On my way to Marrakech I found a Natrix maura near a Oued, a male.


Natrix maura. Photo: © Stéphane Clerc.

Summary:
Herping in the desert is really different than herping in Europa. In Europa, you find the good spot in relation with the specy you’re looking for and then you search. In Morocco, every place is a good place so you have to do a lot of kilometers which is really hard when you’re alone. I did 2500 km in car, about 40-50 at foot but I hadn´t the time I would have wished.

So for my next trip I’ll stay focus on some spot like the surrounding of Guelmim. It was a really good experience for me and the next time, I’m sure that I’ll find more species. I also think that march is maybe not the best month for snakes because in 2500km, I didn’t find any snakes DOR, absolutely no one. Hussein also told me that after more than 20 years looking for snakes, march is usually the worst month. So next time I think that I will visit Morocco about may, at least for finding some Vipera monticola individuals.