The High Atlas mountains have so much to offer and, with the help of mules and muleteers, your trek or climb can be so much easier! Those who don’t want to carry heavy loads for their extended adventures need look no further than a sure-footed mule (otherwise known as the Berber 4×4) and a competent muleteer.
Choosing a mule and muleteer is not entirely straightforward, however. All trekkers and visitors to these parts have a duty of care and should empower themselves to make well-informed, responsible choices. The following pages will help you do that and will ensure that you do not unwittingly contribute to the exploitation of muleteers and are not responsible for animal neglect, abuse and cruelty.
The main problems and causes of animal suffering that you should be aware of are:
- Traditional bits
- Inadequate feeding
- Poor farriery and foot care
- Working unfit mules (mules that are lame, sick or injured)
The following publication Promoting Pack Mule Welfare on Expedition (featured in The Professional Mountaineer) summarises these welfare issues in pictorial form and can help you recognise what to avoid. It should be read in conjunction with The Donkey Sanctuary publication “Welfare Guidelines in Pictures”, which is designed to help visitors and locals alike recognise the welfare problems in order to then avoid them. The following videos illustrate just how serious these problems are:
Traditional Bit Video
Over the last eight years The Donkey Sanctuary has been working in the region to help bring the tourism industry in the High Atlas up to speed with good muleteering and pack animal welfare practices. There has been some change and good progress, but things still have a long way to go!
GUIDELINES FOR GOOD PRACTICE AND A FAIR WAGE
1) Make sure that the muleteers are not using traditional bits which injure the mule and cause acute pain and suffering to the animal. It is your responsibility to refuse to employ or travel with anyone working their mule in a traditional bit so make sure you can recognise these. If the owner tells you the mule is difficult / unmanageable without such a bit, this is a sure sign the mule has been abused and is afraid of humans / their owner.
The following equipment is acceptable:
Head collars and / or bitless bridle (best practice)
Humane / modern bits which are made of stainless steel and look like this (acceptable practice).
NOT HUMANE BIT & NOT ACCEPTABLE (Traditional Bit)
2) Make sure mules are not loaded with more than 80kgs! This recommended maximum load is to ensure the health, comfort of the mule as well as a sustainable working life. Mules are a serious investment for muleteers as they need to be cared for come work or no work!
3) See that muleteers are using humane tethers for their mules! Please see above articles, blogs and pdfs for further information!
4) Make sure a minimum wage of 130dh per day is being paid directly to the muleteer and if you are going to tip them please do that directly as well! Be aware that if you hire a mule in the village of Imlil, 10 dirhams or more is paid to the head muleteer. You should check that no one is taking a commission.
Companies like The Mountain People Ltd and Wild Goose Adventure SARL have committed to a tiered payment scheme which pays a minimum of 150dh per day for muleteers using a humane bit (they won’t employ muleteers who use traditional bits) and up to 175dhs per day for those that are using a bit-less bridle and have had training in collaboration with the Donkey Sanctuary and their standards and training.
WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
- Check that the company you choose for your trip follows the above guidelines! Ask for details of their policies and how they are implemented.
- Donate money to help The Donkey Sanctuary’s initiatives for training owners and handlers in good animal care, handling and treatment: https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/donate
- For further details about the welfare of trekking mules of the High Atlas, get in touch with Glen Cousquer at: [email protected]
- Raise awareness of mule welfare on Facebook! Like: https://www.facebook.com/atlasmules & https://www.facebook.com/TheDonkeySanctuary
- Donate your old ropes to be used in making humane head collars and tethers! Get in touch with Glen Cousquer at: [email protected] or James at The Mountain People.
How do you choose a provider that has good animal welfare practices and pays the muleteer a fair wage? Well there are a number of companies who have made a clear commitment to protect mule welfare and declare this on their websites. There are also a number of able and competent muleteers who The Donkey Sanctuary can recommend for your trip:
For more information on the work that has been done please have a look at the following links and pdf downloads:
This article give clear insight into the issues surrounding bad tethering practices (securing a mule) and shares what solutions are being developed by Glen Cousquer of the Donkey Sanctuary.
This article tracks the progress being made in seeing humane tethering practices implemented in the High Atlas mountains.