Snake Charmers and Monkey Handlers of the Djemaa el Fna; Are Tourists Supporting Animal Abuse?

Snake Charmers and Monkey Handlers of the Djemaa el Fna; Are Tourists Supporting Animal Abuse?

The hypnotic tune of the bheen, the mesmerizing undulation of the snake. 

It’s sexy, it’s dangerous, it’s exotic.

Snake charmers have been captivating audiences for centuries. Beginning in India and traveling as far as northern Africa, snake charmers were initially believed to be holy men influenced by the gods, as Hinduism regards the snake to be sacred. These charmers were trained snake handlers and bite healers. They were often called on for their expertise, in addition to simply providing a valuable source of entertainment during  festivals.  So why are some so opposed, and are you practicing responsible tourism by giving your money to them?

There are a few reasons snake charming is in such decline, but one remains a source for controversy.

As every debate goes, there are two sides to every story. Some animal rights activists are deeming snake charming as the abuse of an endangered species.  In India, it violates the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.  But another reason for debate is because charmers rarely use what is considered a “hot” snake, which is a snake that still has its fangs and poison glands.  Typically the fangs are broken off, so the snake cannot strike, however some charmers remove the whole venom system. In inexperienced hands, this can result in death from bleeding out or infection. Charmers that want to avoid the risks of the surgery also opt to sew the snake’s mouth shut. Charmers traditionally teach the respect of serpents and have used this practice as a means of supporting a family and passing their craft from one male generation to the next continuing a cultural tradition.

 In addition to the exotic snake charmers, the popular macaques (monkeys) sit on shoulders and heads of laughing tourists, earning their owner’s keep. These monkeys are usually taken from their mothers at an early age from their natural habitat, the nearby Atlas mountains. Monkeys are kept in small cages and spend all day in the busy Jemaa el Fna in chains.

Traveling is about unique experiences and developing an individual belief system.


Whether or not you agree or disagree with the entertainers, it is important to know that the treatment sustains because of the support from tourists.  If you choose to give or not to give your money is a vote for or against the continuation of the practice.


So before you go to Marrakech, this may be a debate that is important to you, and based on your own belief system it may be something you would want to consider before giving away your dirhams.

Written and contributed by beth yost



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