Els van Lavieren
Around 80% of the Barbary macaque population is found in Morocco, with the Ifrane National Park as their main stronghold. Over the past 25 years, the population has declined by over 50%. Els van Lavieren started researching the illegal trade involved and founded the Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation (MPC) in Morocco. At first Els worked more or less alone on scientific research, creating awareness, training customs officials and lobbying for legislation. Nowadays MPC’s team consists of over 20 people and the macaque population is recovering steadily. With the macaques in good hands Els embarked on a new mission: since 2017 she has been fighting against illegal wildlife trade in Suriname and managing the marine programme at Conservational International Suriname.
For six years, Els van Lavieren was head of the animal care department at Stichting AAP, a sanctuary for exotic animals in the Netherlands. During her time at Stichting AAP, she saw a large increase in the number of Barbary macaques being confiscated who were originally from Morrocco. Her interest was piqued, so she decided to write her Master thesis on the illegal trade in Barbary macaques to find out the logics behind this trade and how to tackle it. After completing her MSc, Els sold her house and moved to Morocco to work full time on the conservation of Barbary macaques.
Vision and Approach
The Barbary macaque is an endangered primate native to Morocco and Algeria. Around 80% of the Barbary macaque population is found in Morocco, with the Ifrane National Park as their main stronghold. Over the past 25 years, the population of these species has declined by over 50% due to habitat loss, poaching and trafficking infants macaques to the illegal pet market. Els was the first to do research on the illegal trade of Barbary macaques in Morocco. After her move, she founded the Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation (MPC). Working more or less on her own, she did scientific research, conducted education and awareness programmes for tourists and schools, gave training courses for customs officials in Spain and Morocco and lobbying on legislation – all in close cooperation with the Moroccan authorities. In 2019 the Barbary macaque population in Ifrane National park – the focal area of the Els’s work with the macaques is recovering steadily due to the efforts of MPC and the team all these years. Infants are born and thriving and poaching has been reduced to a very low level.
“The Future For Nature Award gave me the opportunity to compose a team, which consists of more than 20 people today. One of our results is that, where these animals were still regarded to be the cause of forest degradation because of wrong population estimates in 2004, there is now a government protection plan for the Barbary macaques, and they are listed on CITES Appendix 1.”Els van Lavieren
Impact of the Future For Nature Award
- Receiving the Future For Nature Award brought Els international recognition for her work and gave her extra motivation to keep on with it, even though the circumstances are not always easy.
- The Future For Nature Award gave Els the opportunity to compose and train a team to help her and the Barbary macaques. The team consists of more than 20 people today.
- The financial support of the Future For Nature Award gave the MPC a huge financial boost, and made it possible to set up a government protection plan for the Barbary macaques.
Els’ outstanding conservation efforts didn’t stop with the foundation of the MPC. After winning the Future For Nature Award, Els finally had time to go on a well-deserved holiday; Suriname became its destination. During her holidays Els became so impressed and fascinated by the countries’ pure and untouched nature, that she didn’t want to leave. She contacted local nature organisations, found a job as the Wildlife Manager at Conservation International (CI) and moved to Paramaribo. She is involved with population counting’s of Suriname’s wildlife, fights illegal wildlife trade and is manager of the marine programme.
Read more about her career switch in her blog ‘From Primates to Marine Life’
"At every level, from her field research on illegal trade of youngsters, to training of wildlife law enforcers, education and involvement of local communities, and successful (inter)national lobbying, Els has proven to be brave, determined, and versatile."Ms. Saba Douglas-Hamilton, International Selection Committee