GOOD NEWS
09/16/2015 01:04 pm ET

The Luxurious Poop From These Tree-Climbing Goats Produces Argan Oil

You've goat to see these billies and does.

Nope, your eyes aren't going baa-d. What you're seeing here is indeed a tree full of goats.

This video was taken in southwestern Morocco by photographer Michael Chinnici (who leads Moroccan photo tours, so you can see and capture this magical sight yourself!).

It shows the country's famous goats, who climb high into argan trees to eat fruit and leaves. Fun fact: As much as 84 percent of the goats' diet can be fruit and leaves, according to a study in the journal Small Ruminant Research.

At least that's the traditional method. According to some sources, in response to increased demand for the product, argan oil is mostly manufactured by hand now, in large part by all-female argan oil cooperatives.

 “This way is harder but the quality is better,” one such worker, Aicha Amsquine, told the Global Post. “And you don’t have to touch anyone’s crap.”

Michael Chinnici/PHOTO WORKSHOP ADVENTURES

Allow a little digression: The focus on tree-climbing goats tends to be on how cute they are (i.e., very), and how interesting it is that something so valuable -- argan has been called the world's most expensive edible oil -- pops out of their behind.

Professor Travis Lybbert, from the University of California, Davis, looked at some of the nerdier aspects of argan oil. Like what a growing market for the oil does to a Moroccan household's finances, and what the goats are doing to the environment

What Lybbert found is that the economics of argan oil are very complicated, but that participating in the argan oil market tends to make a family richer and presents important opportunities for women and girls.

The downside to this economic boon is that it leads to families buying more tree-climbing goats, which can be very bad for Morocco's argan forests.

Here's how UC Davis put it in a media release:

"As households benefit economically, they often purchase more goats. Goats are the primary threat to the argan forests because they climb the trees to graze their leaves." 

If processing argan oil by hand means the buying and herding of fewer goats, you might think this would lead in turn to fewer goats in trees. Clearly, a scenario that would be a net negative for the amount of whimsy and delight in the world. But, you would think, better for the trees.

Alas, not so. Lybbert tells The Huffington Post that the goats aren't merely cute cogs in the argan oil-making machine.

Rather, families buy them as "the primary store of wealth" -- living, breathing, tree-climbing (and ruining, sometimes) commodities that can be sold or eaten, if not otherwise useful, he explained.

And Lybbert found that even absent goats, human beings also resort to environmentally unfriendly argan harvesting techniques, that are bad for the forests.

"Microlevel evidence suggests that the [argan] boom is benefiting some locals," he writes in his paper, "but it has altered forest exploitation by increasing short-run fruit collection incentives rather than long-run concerns of forest sustainability." 

Michael Chinnici/Photo Workshop Adventures

What now? Well, maybe Moroccan kids and tourists together can help fix this problem, at least a little bit.

These tree-climbing goats are such a unique draw that eager visitors will travel from all over to come see them up on high. 

But children, which is to say human kids, are doing their parts for both the economy and the environment by keeping the goats grounded -- until the tourists pay up.

Only then will these adorable, economically interesting, ecologically compromising ungulates be let back to nibble away up in the trees, and then produce that precious, precious poop.

More down on the ground, Lybbert said he's also heartened to see other countries, like Israel, dipping their toes -- if not their goats -- into argan tree growing and oil production, which may lead to  the development of some more sustainable practices.

Michael Chinnici/Photo Workshop Adventures

Definitely check out more photos and videos of the tree-climbing goats on Michael Chinnici's website.

And get in touch at arin.greenwood@huffingtonpost.com if you have an animal story to share!

PHOTO GALLERY
World's Most Extreme Animals
CONVERSATIONS