Are birding optics such as telescopes banned in Morocco? Are there any new rules regarding this subject? The answer is NO.
Please read until the end, share with your friends and colleagues and contribute your feedback (after your visit to the country).
Morocco has been visited by several kinds of people over the years, from the hippies (in the past decades) to the birders, trekkers and other tourists. Morocco has always been a welcoming land (those of you with interest in history will understand more). Overall, Moroccans are remembered as generous and helpful people. (Well, there is some hustle and bustle in some popular places, which is inevitable in my opinion. While this irritates some people, others are not bothered at all and consider this as part of the experience). Note: it’s difficult to stay impartial when writing about your own land and people, but you can find plenty of accounts online far more positive than the few words above.
The administration (from the Customs to the Police,…etc.) is mostly helpful as well. Some would even dare to say that some foreign visitors and members of the Moroccan diaspora get some kind of preferential treatment. Generally, there have been no interference with the movement of people and their goods as long as everything is within the law. So far, so good!
Recent incidents with birding equipment
However, over the past years, we hear now and then that some birders are not allowed to bring in their birding equipment (mainly telescopes). Different birders use terms like “confiscated” to describe these incidents. In reality, the equipment is not technically confiscated, but not allowed into the country. The equipment stays at the port of entry (airports or ports), and is returned to their owners when they leave Morocco.
‘Now and then’ used above is probably an exaggeration. We only knew three cases. The first incident was with the Swedish birders of the ‘Big Year WP 2017’ at Rabat Airport in 2017 (We don’t agree with the reason they gave in their website, because we know more about this land!!). In this case, the official mentioned the ‘need of a permit from the Ministry of Communications’, which means he thought that the equipment is for filming (For professional film makers, they need a permit from the Moroccan Cinematographic Centre).
The second case happened to a German birder at Casablanca Airport in 2018. He didn’t get his birding gear until the day he left Morocco. Luckily for him, he borrowed the binoculars and a telescope from the colleagues at GREPOM in Rabat (But borrowing equipment from the locals is not a solution for everybody!!).
The third case happened in late August 2019 to two birding brothers from the UK and other members of the Andalucía Bird Society. They arrived by ferry to Tangier from Tarifa. Upon arrivals, they got their telescopes ‘confiscated’ by the Customs. See this tweet:
Below is a letter sent to Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism by Peter Jones, the president of the Andalucia Bird Society, regarding this incident.
Reactions to the latest incident
If the first two cases didn’t receive a lot of attention from birders, the third one has been widely discussed in twitter and birding forums.
Some birders are talking about the “new rules” as if they were true, and started warning fellow birders to be aware of this new situation (We dont’t blame them!). Two examples below:
While other birders are saying they won’t visit Morocco under these circumstances, and warned the Moroccan National Tourist Office that these ‘decisions’ or ‘new rules’ are bad for the ecotourism sector in Morocco. Two examples below:
I am almost certain that the official twitter account of the tourism office (@Visit_Morocco_) never replied to the tweets where they were mentioned (examples above). They just didn’t bother to reply and help put an end to this bad publicity for the country.
No new rules regarding birding optics
So, are there any new rules banning telescopes from entry in Morocco as mentioned online (and quoted above)?
The short answer is no. We visited two Customs offices, one located in the north and the other in the centre of the country. The officials at both offices told us they are not aware of any new rules of this kind. At one of the offices, we also asked about the specific case of @WildAlmeria birders: they told us that the birders should ask the same official who made that decision. See the @MoroccanBirds tweet below:
We also checked the website of Moroccan Customs administration; there is nothing that says telescopes are banned. To the contrary, telescopes and other birding equipment (cameras, binoculars) are mentioned in several documents as normal items that should be taxed.
In the website, there are several documents that deal with banned items and items under special restrictions. Examples of these include: weapons and war ammunition, narcotics, some live animals, certain plants and plant products likely to be carriers of harmful organisms that could threaten the national flora, parasites of plants like live insects and eggs, some kind of carpets, …). Telescopes and other birding equipment are nowhere to be found in these documents dealing with the banned items.
Telescopes, binoculars and big cameras have never been banned in Morocco and hopefully will never be banned. The duty of the Customs officials is to make sure that taxes are paid for expensive optics ‘imported’ in Morocco. But their dilemma is how to tell if that equipment is for personal use or is going to be sold in Morocco (without paying taxes!). Because the incidents like those mentioned above are so rare means most experienced Customs officials know the difference (most likely, they have seen, over the years, that these telescopes enter but also exit Morocco).
Note: The section named “Legal solution to bring your birding optics to Morocco” in which we talked about the ‘ATA carnet’ is no longer needed. Instead of deleting it completely, we moved it (as it was) to this comment for the record.
Please share this with your friends and colleagues and with anyone interested in birding in Morocco. Individual birders, or birding companies. All.
To monitor the situation, we need to know not only about the incidents where the equipment got ‘confiscated’, but also when birders visited Morocco without any problem. To do this monitoring, please share with us your experiences (from now on) at Morocco’s points of entry (which we hope will be all positive ones). You can send us an email or mention @MoroccanBirds in twitter. Thanks!
Feedback (after publishing the blog)
We got the first good news this morning (tweet below). Please keep them coming! Thanks everyone!
Jorge Orueta from SEO/BirdLife crossed from Spain (and went back) by ferry this month and didn’t encounter any problem (Jorge’s tweet reply). Javi Elorriaga (Birding the Strait) also crossed from Tarifa to Tangier and didn’t encounter any problem (Javi’s tweet).