The Donkey Sanctuary has been funding a project to improve the welfare of the mules which are used as pack animals for guided walking tours and expeditions through the mountains of the Moroccan High Atlas. Until this project began, there were no industry standards or guidelines for the way pack animals should be loaded or cared for. Over the years this has resulted in considerable suffering and even deaths, most of which is entirely avoidable. Mules commonly developed saddle sores because of overloading or inadequate padding; the use of nylon ropes for tethering caused painful wounds, and poorly-designed or fitted bits resulted in mouth injuries. The muleteers and guides also lacked basic training in managing the animals, preventing problems and identifying and dealing with any health problems which cropped up during the treks.
A few years ago, vet and experienced Mountain Leader, Glen Cousquer, came up with the idea of a training course for Mountain Guides, Mountain Leaders and Expedition Leaders, which would give them the knowledge and skills they needed to make sure the mules were kept healthy and comfortable. Glen had completed an MSc in Outdoor Education at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education. With funding from The Donkey Sanctuary, he developed a training module for the national mountain guide school (known as the Centre de Formation Aux Metiers de Montagne, CFAMM), which has been in existence for 25 years and is currently the only approved training centre in Morocco. The first course was conducted in 2010 and was very well-received by the trainees and management alike; it has now been incorporated into the curriculum. The focus over the next 2-4 years will be on refining the course structure and evaluating the effects on the mules’ welfare.