Rare snow in southern Morocco


This 29 January 2018 video shows snow in Ouarzazate in southern Morocco.

There had been no snow in southern Morocco for thirty years.

I fondly remember Ouarzazate and the birds in and around it from a much warmer winter.

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Good bald ibis news from Morocco


This 2016 video is called The World of the Bald Ibis – Birds of Morocco.

From BirdLife:

24 Nov 2017

Important new breeding sites of mythical ibis discovered

It has had a dramatic history and was almost lost to extinction. Now this Critically Endangered bird is bouncing back with record breeding success in Morocco in 2017.

By Shaun Hurrell

As the day drew to a close, the orange light reflecting from the Atlantic seemed to soften the texture of the sun-baked Moroccan cliffs so much so they looked like they could crumble in an instant. There the birds were: perched on a couple of sloping, sandstone ledges, an entire colony of about 20 settling in for the night, low squawks and rustles heard above the scouring waves only a few metres below. Birds often nest in precarious places, and despite the cliffs in Tamri, southwest Morocco, actually being pretty strong, by knowing this species’ Critically Endangered status, you cannot help but feel a little worried for these large, iridescent-black creatures.

Throughout history, Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has had a turbulent relationship with humans. This mythical bald bird with a punkish crest once had an extensive range that spread across North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and has been idolised by humans as symbols of fertility and virtue, even mummified to accompany Ancient Egyptian royalty.

Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco

Yet it has lost its feeding areas to land-use changes, its nest sites have been built on or disturbed, and it has also been poisoned by pesticides, hunted, persecuted, collected in a gold rush for museums, and a dramatic range-reduction resulted in an all-time population low at the end of the 20th century with only 59 breeding pairs remaining in 1997. Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco.

A local man approaches with a GREPOM (BirdLife in Morocco) cap to watch the colony, having arrived on a motorbike at the exact time the flock landed in the area. He’s a warden, coordinated by Souss-Massa National Park, and trained to prevent disturbance of the ibises at the colony and surrounding fields where they feed on lizards, scorpions and beetles. He also provides safe drinking water and sees off any threats.

They’re social birds, easily spooked, so this work has really boosted the global population of wild Northern Bald Ibis in recent years, bringing it up to 600 birds for the first time in modern history — thanks to long-lasting commitment from BirdLife, and recently, to GREPOM and the Moroccan government protecting colonies at Souss-Massa National Park, and this smaller site at Tamri. GREPOM have also undertaken public awareness work to help raise the profile of such an important species.

“With great cooperation between BirdLife and the Moroccan government, the colonies started to look crowded”, says Chris Bowden, AEWA Coordinator for the species on behalf of BirdLife. “Perhaps along the coast a new colony would form.” Something every conservationist would delight in saying. But don’t count your colonies until your ibises have hatched: with better official protection still needed for the colony at Tamri, for example, nothing could be certain for a species that has been listed in the highest category of threat on the Red List for over 30 years.

A few tentative reports came in. Then: “We found what we’d been waiting for: a new colony!” said Halima Bousadik, GREPOM, who co-authored the paper heralding the welcome news. During the 2017 reproductive season, two new breeding sites were discovered on two distinct coastal cliffs north of Tamri, with adults incubating at least three confirmed active nests, and totaling a new record of 122 wild breeding pairs.

“The importance of this news is that, with a steady population increase, Northern Bald Ibis are now exiting their ‘comfort zone’ of the guarded sites, giving us a lot of hope for more similar discoveries”, said Jorge F. Orueta, SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain), who has worked on the species since 2000. “We now need to check all suitable sites in the region, and implement a GPS tracking programme to learn their movements.”

Leaving the cliffs of Tamri, it strikes you that those who wish to call the Northern Bald Ibis “ugly” haven’t seen healthy birds up close in their natural habitat; haven’t seen how the light shimmers green against their magnificent black flanks. With news of new colonies, and a new phase in ibis conservation, perhaps history will repeat itself and the Northern Bald Ibis will once again be idolised throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

This 2013 video is called Northern Bald Ibis. Part of a flock of over 90 in the Sous Massa National Park .

Catalan Moroccans commemorate Barcelona attack victims


Ripoll town Moroccans commemorate Barcelona attack victims

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Moroccan community of Ripoll silent to commemorate victims

Yesterday, 22:09

Ripoll, a small sleepy Spanish town with 11,000 inhabitants, at the foot of the Pyrenees. Everyone knows each other, at least faces. No one from the town expected seven of the at least eight suspects involved in the Barcelona attack to be from Ripoll.

The Moroccan community in Ripoll wanted to show tonight that they do not support the actions of the Moroccan boys. With about fifty people, a minute’s silence was held on a square in the city. The Moroccan Spaniards stood with signs in their hands that said “Not in my name”.

The mothers and aunts of the suspects also stood there. “They said they went on holiday,” they told. “We received some SMS from them until Thursday.” With this action, they hoped to show everyone that the attack was not committed by their sons as they used to know them.

Also, 22-year-old Hamza, who was at school with some of the boys and played with them, never expected this. “They were very normal, always together, ate together,” he says. “They were boys who did everything together, friends for life.” Hamza can still not imagine they were killed. “We were together at school, they are young people.”

The Spanish government is preparing a massive deployment of police and security forces, even as questions rise about how last week’s horrific terror attack in Barcelona was allowed to proceed. As evidence emerges that the terror cell was well known to intelligence services, Madrid is both downplaying the investigation and demanding more police-state measures: here.

CIA tried to use ex-Guantanamo prisoners as spies


Guantanamo Bay

Here, another old blog post by me which I thought was lost.

CIA tried to use ex-Guantanamo prisoners as spies

30 June 2005

Mood: Thinking Playing: War, by Edwin Starr

Dutch TV program NOVA of today is about an attempt by the United States CIA to use ex-prisoners of Guantanamo Bay camp as spies in The Netherlands and other countries.

They tried with five men of Moroccan ancestry. NOVA interviewed three of them.

Two of them declared that the CIA promised them the right to stay in The Netherlands.

Their lawyer, Mr Mohamed Hilal, said that for that they were supposed to spy within the Moroccan Dutch community.

Experts say the story of these three Moroccans is credible.

The five Moroccans were imprisoned in August 2001 in Afghanistan. Then, they went to Guantanamo Bay camp.

Last August, they were released without charges and sent to Morocco.

In NOVA, Mohamed Ouzar, Mohamed Mazouz, and Brahim Benchekroun said that the CIA in Guantanamo offered them to spy in five countries, including The Netherlands, Canada, and Switzerland.

There was heavy pressure on them not to return to Morocco. The CIA said they’d probably be tortured there.

In spite of the bad circumstances in Guantanamo, where prisoners were isolated in their cells and one said he had been ill most of the time, the prisoners refused the offers; as they said, they had committed no crimes and owed their captors nothing.

A Moroccan court released them after their return to Morocco.

NOVA showed the report on the three Moroccans to Martin Dillon. He wrote much on British intelligence in Northern Ireland.

Today, this intelligence expert studies mainly the CIA. Dillon says the ex-prisoners’ testimony fits into US tactics in Guantanamo Bay.

Also Dutch intelligence expert Wil van der Schans says the ex-prisoners’ story is credible. He suspects Dutch secret service AIVD were also implicated in this case.

Guantanamo Bay military judge arrests military defense lawyer: here.

Guantanamo Bay inmate refused access to book on non-violence written by bereaved 9/11 relatives. Exclusive: The book discusses the teachings of Martin Luther King: here.

The Pentagon faces renewed outrage this month over human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, after reports that the prison will prevent the release of, and possibly incinerate, detainees’ artwork. While previously the prison allowed rigorously pre-screened artwork to leave with released detainees and to be given to lawyers and aid workers, Department of Defense officials have ordered Guantanamo to stop releasing cellblock art altogether, declaring it “property of the U.S. government”: here.

Guantánamo inmates claim Trump’s ‘anti-Muslim bias’ fuels their detention. Eleven prisoners are petitioning a federal court in Washington to end their indefinite incarceration and are citing the president’s campaign comments: here.

‘Oldest human fossils discovered in Morocco’


This video says about itself:

2 June 2017

Caption: Composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) based on micro computed tomographic scans of multiple original fossils. Dated to 300 thousand years ago these early Homo sapiens already have a modern-looking face that falls within the variation of humans living today. However, the archaic-looking virtual imprint of the braincase (blue) indicates that brain shape, and possibly brain function, evolved within the Homo sapiens lineage.

Credit: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Moroccan fossils show human ancestors’ diet of game

June 7, 2017

Summary: New fossil finds from Morocco do more than push back the origins of our species by 100,000 years. They also reveal what was on the menu for our oldest-known Homo sapiens ancestors 300,000 years ago: Plenty of gazelle.

New fossil finds from the Jebel Irhoud archaeological site in Morocco do more than push back the origins of our species by 100,000 years. They also reveal what was on the menu for our oldest-known Homo sapiens ancestors 300,000 years ago:

Plenty of gazelle meat, with the occasional wildebeest, zebra and other game and perhaps the seasonal ostrich egg, says Teresa Steele, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who analyzed animal fossils at Jebel Irhoud.

Steele, who studies how food sources and environmental change influenced human evolution and migration, was part of the international research team that began excavating at the site in 2004. She is the co-author of one of two papers featured on the cover of the June 8 issue of Nature: “Human origins: Moroccan remains push back date for the emergence of Homo sapiens.”

Jebel Irhoud has been well known since the 1960s for its human fossils and for its Middle Stone Age artifacts, but the geological age of those fossils was uncertain.

The new excavation project — led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer of the National Institute for Archaeology and Heritage (INSAP) in Rabat, Morocco — uncovered 16 new Homo sapiens fossils along with stone tools and animal bones. The remains comprise skulls, teeth, and long bones of at least 5 individuals.

Thermoluminescence dating of heated flints yielded an age of approximately 300,000 years ago — 100,000 years earlier than the previously oldest Homo sapiens fossils.

Analysis of the animal fossils provided additional evidence to support the date. Dating of rodent remains suggested they were 337,000 to 374,000 years old.

Gazelle Bones Common

Steele sifted through hundreds of fossil bones and shells, identifying 472 of them to species as well as recording cut marks and breaks indicating which ones had been food for humans.

Most of the animal bones came from gazelles. Among the other remains, Steele also identified hartebeests, wildebeests, zebras, buffalos, porcupines, hares, tortoises, freshwater molluscs, snakes and ostrich egg shells.

Small game was a small percentage of the remains. “It really seemed like people were fond of hunting,” she said.

Cuts and breaks on long bones indicate that humans broke them open, likely to eat the marrow, she said. Leopard, hyena and other predators’ fossils were among the finds, but Steele found little evidence that the nonhuman predators had gnawed on the gazelle and other prey.

Steele said the findings support the idea that Middle Stone Age began just over 300,000 years ago, and that important changes in modern human biology and behaviour were taking place across most of Africa then.

“In my view, what it does is to continue to make it more feasible that North Africa had a role to play in the evolution of modern humans.”

See also here.

Spanish plants, new discoveries


This video says about itself:

Clovenlip toadflax (Linaria maroccana) – 2016-09-15

Linaria maroccana is a species of flowering plant in the plantain family known by the common name clovenlip toadflax. It is native to Morocco, but it can be found elsewhere as an introduced species and it is cultivated as an ornamental plant.

From Plataforma SINC in Spain:

Spanish plant misclassified for 176 years

June 1, 2017

Summary: Surprisingly, there are still plant species waiting to be discovered in the Iberian Peninsula. Some are detected thanks to the latest study methods, and others, such as Linaria becerrae, are described when reinterpreting species which are already known. This new Málaga plant had been classified by mistake for 176 years.

Surprisingly, there are still plant species waiting to be discovered in the Iberian Peninsula. Some are detected thanks to the latest study methods, and others, such as Linaria becerrae, are described when reinterpreting species which are already known. This new Málaga plant had been classified by mistake for 176 years.

The genus Linaria has about 150 species distributed throughout Europe, North Africa, and central and western Asia, but its main centre of diversity is in the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb. It is there that exclusive plants are found, discovered during the last two centuries, with very small distribution areas, sometimes threatened with extinction.

In Spain, in 1841, the Swiss botanist Pierre Edmond Boissier described the species Linaria salzmanii, which was named in honour of the botanist Philipp Salzmann who contributed to the knowledge of Iberian flora. Thanks to the material from Güéjar Sierra in Granada that Boissier analysed, it was determined that the plant was typical of sandy substrates, often dolomitic (rocky), and was found in the provinces of Granada, Málaga and Jaén.

But, in his visit to our country in 1837, the scientist never actually came to check the presence of the species near the town of El Chorro, in the western part of the province of Malaga, due to the likely existence of bandits. This has led to an error that lasted for almost two centuries.

Scientists from the universities of Granada and Almería have now carried out an exhaustive analysis of the populations of this species, and have observed that the plants found in Málaga differ significantly from those found in Granada: they have flowers with a long and straight spur, which are uniform in colour and intensely violet, except for a yellow spot at the entrance to the tube of the corolla (the area called the palate), with subtle violet veins.

“These and other considerations led our team to the description of the new species, Linaria becerrae. By mistake, it had previously been considered that the species described by Boissier was that of Málaga,” explains Gabriel Gabrielto, one of the authors of the study published in Phytotaxa and a researcher at the University of Granada.

The plant has been named in honour of the botanist from Málaga, Manuel Becerra Parra, who had already recorded the differences between the Linaria species in the province of Malaga, and promoted this work.

A plant in need of protection

At present, the original population of Linaria salzmanii has disappeared due to the construction of the Canales dam, and Linaria becerrae is now considered exclusive of the west of the province of Málaga, where it lives in areas bordering the protected natural area of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, a well-known tourist site. The species forms communities of rapidly developing grasses in sandy substrates resulting from the decomposition of molasses (conglomerates and detrital sandstones).

“Although it is frequent in this area, the reach of this type of substrates is very small, so it should be part of the catalogue of protected species,” suggests Blanca, for whom there are still species to be discovered not only by misinterpretations as in the case of this Málaga plant, but also for the detection of new organisms thanks to resolute methods of study.

In fact, with the application of molecular biology or the existence of exhaustive reference works to better detect any novelties, the team that has described L. becerrae has recently published five new species in eastern Andalusia: Tragopogon lainzii, Galatella malacitana, Sisymbrium isatidifolium, Rivasmartinezia cazorlana and Teucrium teresianum.