The current challenges for Animal Welfare in Petra
According to a survey by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in 2011, there are a total of 9,795 horses, donkeys and mules in Jordan, 1,350 of which are found in the Petra region. Of these, approximately 700 work regularly in the Petra Park transporting tourists in and around the site and up and down steps to see sites like the monastery.
Animal welfare has improved greatly since the 1980s where skinny, exhausted horses, donkeys and mules were a common sight. Accidents and injuries were all too frequent, standards of animal welfare were low due to over-working and overloading and no basic equine services were available. However the equine clinic, originally established by the Brooke, is now managed and maintained by the Ministry of Agriculture for sustainability. This combined with awareness-raising and training interventions within the community around better husbandry and preventative care succeeded in raising the welfare standards of horses, donkeys and mules in Petra considerably. Malnutrition, dehydration and exhaustion have dramatically reduced and incidences of harmful traditional practices such as killing of colts at birth, nostril-slitting to help breathing, firing, and using car oil and battery acid on wounds are now virtually non-existent.
In Petra animal welfare issues are now a key element in the plans of local government authorities and different stakeholders, like the Horse Owners Association (HOA). However welfare challenges remain, as the process of improving behaviour and attitudes towards working horses, donkeys and mules in Petra continues:
- Overloading – Animals may look strong but have limits just like people. The number of tourists riding in one of the horse carriages should not exceed the number of wheels the carriage has, as additional weight puts extra pressure on the harness leading to wounds which often can’t be seen. Similarly, more than one tourist on the back of a donkey means the animal cannot comfortably take the weight. Even the weight of one tourist may be too much for an animal in some circumstances. Riding an animal up the steps of the monastery not only damages the fragile carved Nabataean sandstone but it also causes welfare issues to the animals as the steps are steep, uneven and can be slippery.
- Beating and whipping – Unfortunately incidences of beating in the park can still be seen, often in an attempt to make the animals go faster. The material used for beating ranges from leather and wooden sticks to metal poles. Beating of animals in Petra is not justified under any circumstances as it can cause fear, distress, pain and wounds.
- Speeding and racing – Incidences of speeding and racing horses, donkeys and mules can be quite common in the park, resulting in exhaustion and accidents. For example accidents between carriages can leave the horses with a range of wounds requiring treatment and making them unable to work for a period of time. Racing often happens in combination with beating, which is further compounded by the occurrence of lameness given the uneven terrain throughout the site.
- Heat stress – Jordan can be a very hot country and Petra is an exciting and interesting location for a variety of physical activities to be undertaken. Therefore tourists should seek shade and water at regular points during their trip within the park. This also applies to the animals. However unfortunately these basic provisions are rarely, if at all, provided. As a result the animals can experience heat stress, dehydration and discomfort.
- Nose chains –Although some animals have fluffy or fabric nose bands, many still wear nose chains. These nose chains are often very tight causing pain and suffering to the animals and are left on for long periods of time causing wounds underneath.