A pair and their calesh in Marrakech.

Animals of Marrakech

Finches. Horses. Donkeys. Cats. Storks. Chickens. Sheep. Lambs.

Beasts have their place in the bustle of Marrakech. Clopping, padding, and flitting through the streets.

Felines are constantly prowling the streets of Marrakech.

Felines are constantly prowling the streets of Marrakech.

If sheer numbers are important, then cats are tops. They glide under foot and skulk under the stools to every other shopkeeper. Only a few are sleek and fine. Most are on the rough edge of domesticated, relying on the occasional tidbit of lamb or fish set gently down by people in addition to whatever they might find on midnight prowls through quiet streets and darkened alleys.

Strapped to small two-wheeled steel carts, the even smaller donkeys labor all the sunny day and long into the night. Dusty, disheveled, roughened by their harness and skinny to the point of skeletal, they haul timber and leather and trash and engine parts and clay pots and bolts of fabric through the narrow streets of the medina.

Donkeys never sleep: this one works midnight construction near Jemaa El Fna in Marrakesh.

Donkeys never sleep: this one works midnight construction near Jemaa El Fna in Marrakesh.

The caged bird sings on Souk El Kebir in Marrakesh.

The caged bird sings on Souk El Kebir in Marrakesh.

Every fourth or fifth shop is awash in bird song. Tiny finches in tiny cages dart nervously, marking one corner of their artificial territory with a few notes and then making a wingbeat to the other side to put up a flag with a few more notes.

The population of horses is surprisingly large. In tandem, the small equines pull green caleshes about the about the town for the amusement of Europeans and, on rare occasions, a rich Moroccan mother with a pack of delighted children. When we stop to talk to a coachman, he estimates 150 of these caleshes work within the city. These horses are not proud Arabians, no. As the son of a horseman, I can say most of these horses are overworked, underfed, and handled with marginal care. One set in twenty steps out smartly. The rest are mismatched plodders who long for more water, greener fodder, and a rest at the end of the workday.

Chickens, lambs, sheep, and fish we see in parts, either on the fires of eateries, or just next to them. Specialty shops proudly display the fully cooked head of their species.

Yes, all the parts are available, and though I’ve seen them raw, I’m not sure how lamb’s brains are served in Moroccan cuisine.

What you will not see are dogs.

(I stretch the truth just a tiny bit there. In three days of wandering the streets here, I have seen two dogs. One was a tony poodle being led by an elderly French woman who was taking her little Fi-Fi on the grand tour of Jemaa El Fna. The other, inexplicably, was a long-haired, medium sized dog—think Irish Setter, Golden Retriever, mutt type—running leashed along side a bicycle ridden by a middle-aged Moroccan man in traditional dress.)

While it is hard to say that anything, save Muhammad, is a universal in Islam, it is fair to say that a lot of Muslims consider dogs to be unclean. There are several instances in the hadith—deeds or sayings attributed to Muhammad—where does are frowned upon. A couple of examples:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times.” (Reported by Muslim)

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Whoever keeps a dog, his good deeds will decrease every day by one qeeraat (a unit of measurement), unless it is a dog for farming or herding.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, al-Fath)

Perhaps I’ll see some herding dogs further north.

Impersonating Dr. Doolittle,