School navigation


Law professor works with Moroccan officials to curb exportation of monkeys

December 07, 2009

  • Father and baby monkey. Original photo can be found at
    Karyn Sig (CC-BY-SA)
  • Erica Thorson, Clinical Professor of Law, International Environmental Law Project

Erica Thorson, Clinical Law Professor at the International Environmental Law Project (IELP), recently returned from Morocco, where she participated in a customs training workshop with two leading international conservation organizations, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Species Survival Network (SSN).

Thorson worked with a team of five trainers, including a primate conservation expert, a British customs officer and trainer, a translator and coordinator for the Francophone Africa region for SSN, program officers with WWF, and an international wildlife trade expert from Humane Society International. The goal was to help customs officials understand the laws governing the exportation of Barbary macaques to Europe.

Thorson worked with IELP students to analyze Morocco’s wildlife legislation and its customs legislation to understand the authority that customs officials have to implement the export and import prohibitions found in Morocco’s wildlife laws.

Barbary macaques were once common to northern Africa and an important key to Morocco’s natural habitat and, consequently, tourism. Exportation of infant Barbary macaques as pets, along with other factors such as deforestation, has decreased the population. Once fully grown and more aggressive, monkeys can no longer be kept as pets, leading to added concerns about what happens to the animals. 

According to Thorson, many customs officials do not know that they have the authority to prohibit the exportation of Barbary macaques, nor are they aware of the true conservation status of the Barbary macaques.

“Just getting Morocco’s environmental ministers and the customs officers in the same room to share ideas and exchange information is an important step for the survival of Morocco’s Barbary macaque population,” Thorson said. “Helping empower local officials to exercise the laws that already exist and identify ways to strengthen laws to close loop holes will allow Barbary macaques to live safely in their natural habitat and sustain a healthy ecosystem.”

Learn more about the project in this podcast, as Thorson describes her collaboration with customs officials and the challenges of environmental law work in the international community.

Follow IELP’s current work on its blog, where students and faculty write about their efforts to negotiate reductions in emissions at the Copenhagen climate summit this month.

Share this story on


Contact Us