Morocco's Goats That Hang Out in Trees

by | May 18, 2010 12:20 PM ET

Don't fall, goats.

iStockphoto/Mosaikphotography

The other day my computer broke and I couldn't stop staring at a National Geographic magazine picture of goats in a tree.

At first I thought the goats had been thrown into the tree by a tornado, and they'd been skewered by the limbs, which made me very sad.

But then I realized that the goats were just standing in the tree -- like goats that casually stand in trees. As soon as my computer was repaired, I had to get to the bottom of these goatrobats (that's a word I just made up for goat acrobats because I'm hilarious):

Here's what I learned: The goats are found in Morocco and they climb these argan trees each spring and summer to eat the leaves. How does a goat climb a tree? Well, like you or I would -- via the low-hanging limbs. And evidently they have enough balance to tight-rope walk branches out to the tasty leaves and nuts. When a goat loses its balance -- and it will -- it falls out of the tree like a 100-pound acorn and lands with a thud. No biggie.

But here's where things get weirder than a bunch of tree-climbing goats: The goats eat the nuts from the trees, but the farmers in the area want to harvest those nuts for oil. If the goats get to a tree before they do, the farmers collect the nuts the goats drop and they also pick through the goat's manure to find the kernels of the nuts, from which they then extract oil. The oil is used for food. It's so precious that people carry vials of it around their necks to pour into their couscous, according to The Dallas Morning News.

And now here's where things get even more surprising than eating oil from nuts digested by tree-climbing goats: That oil is not only tasty, it also has anti-aging qualities. So, people don't just want to eat it, they want to slather it on their faces to prevent wrinkles. In 2005, Prince Albert of Monaco, UNESCO, several chefs and "an army of grandes dames excited by the oil's reputed anti-aging qualities" formed an alliance to create a global market for the oil, according to NYT. Why? Well naturally it has to do with the tree-climbing goats.

Apparently the goats were overgrazing the argan tree, and the tree was slowly going extinct. To protect the tree and its precious oil (which is so vital to the people who live in the area), the alliance hoped to make the oil popular to the greater culinary and cosmetic world. That would push the locals to protect the tree and come up with ways to harvest its nuts for a larger market. As part of this initiative, the alliance made some trees off limits to goats from May to August. That's what I said -- no tree-climbing goats from May to August.

Much to the argan trees' dismay, the goats still climb them, though. And if you're visiting Morocco and you're like the Dallas Morning News writer, a guide will drive you out to see the goats in the trees, if you so desire. If I ever go to Morocco, I know I'll want to see those goats.

This tree used to have leaves before the goats came.
iStockphoto/Mosaikphotography

Follow Coolest Stuff on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CoolestStuffHSW and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CoolestStuff.

More To Explore