First impression – Morocco is a country of storks
Our first morning in Morocco started with the tour of Rabat. We visited the King’s palace and then moved to see the ancient Roman ruins of Chellah. Every high place (towers, fence, windows, and tree tops) was occupied by a pair of storks on their nests. Just from one spot, we could see 22 nests! All these storks were making clicking sounds with their beaks. I don’t know why they were making the clattering noises, but to me, it sounded like they were greeting us.
The guide took our group to a small pool and told us that eels were living there. As soon as we assembled around the murky water, an old woman appeared with a bowl of some dry food. From a distance, it looked like cat food.
Second impression – Morocco is a country of feral cats
The incredible amount of cats followed this woman. Young, old, mostly skinny, they crawled out of all nooks and crannies of the old buildings. The woman sprinkled the food into the pool. We peered into the dark water and saw a few eels, snapping the pellets. After that, the woman sprayed the rest of the food all over the area next to the pool and the cats’ feeding frenzy began.
The guide suggested donating to this woman, and the coins dropped like rain in her now-empty bowl. I figured that the woman was timing her appearances to get those donations. Seeing hundreds of cats in Chellah, I decided that it is a unique place. Where else can you see so many cats?
Very soon I understood that I was wrong. While traveling around Morocco, we saw stray cats everywhere – in restaurants, gardens, mosques, and especially at souks (markets). In many places, cats were numerous, like pigeons in a city square. Before this trip, I studied a few travel books about Morocco, but I did not see any information about the cats.
Do not pet street cats in Morocco
One woman from our group, Leslie, petted every single cat in sight. I like cats, but I wouldn’t ever touch a stray cat. The feral cats can carry many infections: ringworm, conjunctivitis, parasites, respiratory and skin diseases.
What’s more dangerous – these cats can carry the rabies virus. Transmission of this virus to other animals and humans can occur through the saliva of cats. Rabies is a serious problem in Morocco. The country can’t control it. Morocco was listed as “High Incidence of Rabies” by some health organizations.
We did not see feral cats on hotel’s premises where we stayed. Those were excellent 4 or 5-star hotels, and their management took care of “cat’s problem.” I only saw a cat in the hotel in Erfoud. I went to the roof of one of the hotel’s buildings to watch the sunrise and saw a cat prowling around, getting closer and closer to the open door.
I picked inside. There was a flight of stairs leading down directly to the restaurant’s kitchen. It looked like this cat was going to visit the kitchen where our breakfast was being prepared. What if this mangy cat will touch our food? Just in case, I closed that door.
Islam and cats
According to the legend, a cat saved Islamic prophet Muhammad from a snake. Grateful Mohammad stroked the cat. Muslim people believe that the stripes on some cats’ heads are marks left by Muhammad’s fingers.
There is another legend about Muhammad’s attitude toward cats. Once, his favorite cat Muezza was sleeping on the sleeve of his robe. The Prophet wanted to go to prayers. Not to disturb the cat he cut off the sleeve with scissors (in another version of this legend, it happened with Abu Hurairah, one of Mohammed’s companions.)
In Islam countries, there is a popular saying “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.” Many Moroccans call cats “holy animals.” At the same time, they do not treat their cats as well as people in other Islam countries.
Do they love cats or dislike them?
The Moroccan people have a complicated relationship with cats.
We saw local people throwing bread or scraps of food to the cats. Many merchants feed stray cats to keep them close to their stores. Cats help to keep mice population in check. In Medina in Fez, we saw cats all over the place. Mostly, they would stay close to the butcher shops and other food stalls.
On the other hand, cats are considered vermin, like mice and rats, and they are not kept as pets. Most cats in Morocco are stray animals. We saw many very filthy cats. A few were even deformed. A very depressing sight!
Some tourists try to help these poor creatures. I heard about one couple who decided to save a very sick kitten. They took it to the local veterinarian but found out that the treatment would cost them thousands of dollars. Also, these tourists would have to cancel their flight home and stay in Morocco for another week or two to oversee the kitten’s treatment. The couple couldn’t afford it. Heartbroken, they returned the kitten to the street where they found it.
A side note about dogs
At least cats which leave in cities get fed by some kind people. The Moroccan dogs are less fortunate. Muslims consider dogs to be unclean and rarely keep them as pets. We saw a lot of stray dogs along the country roads. The dogs looked like they were waiting for something.
Our tour guide explained that the truck drivers drop some food out of truck windows to feed these poor creatures. We saw whole families of dogs waiting patiently for the scraps from cars and trucks.
How many cats are in Morocco?
I was not able to find this information. According to the Ecology Global Network, there are about 600 million cats in the world (including pets, strays, and feral cats).
The country with the most cats is the United States – 76,430,000. In China – 53,100,000. In Russia – 12,700,000. In Brazil – 12,466,000. These are the countries with high population. Morocco has about 36 million people. Almost all cats in this country are feral cats. Good luck counting street cats in Morocco!