A number of tragic deaths have taken the lives of a series of mules in the Toubkal National Park over the past year. The plight of these hard-working animals has profoundly touched many of our supporters and partners and has galvanised them to support a number of important training initiatives.
Head collar initiative
The death of one particular mule suffering from serious bitting injuries has led to the initiation of a training programme to develop the animal handling skills within the community and encourage the use of head collars rather than bridles. Most of the mules work in bridles that are not designed for leading animals. The various bits used in these bridles simply slide through the mouth causing pain, injury and discomfort. The introduction of head collars addresses this failing. A series of two-week workshops has now commenced and will see owners receive training in how to work more efficiently with their mules. This work draws on principles of natural horsemanship and emphasises a good understanding of animal behaviour and communication. These workshops have been generously funded by a number of benefactors who have been impressed by the results of the work conducted to date.
The training classes demonstrate very clearly how a trusting relationship can be developed and nurtured. Fearful responses vanish, becoming a thing of the past. Mule and mule handler become confident and learn to understand and trust each other. This is how it should be and it is these relationships that the Expedition Providers Association will seek to promote throughout and beyond the 2015 trekking season.
Expedition Providers Association initiative
As reported in Alex Mayers's previous blog, our partners at the Expedition Providers Association, have agreed to introduce the Leader Checklist produced in conjunction with The Donkey Sanctuary. Their management teams have now received training and are fully versed on the problems that need to be addressed and how this will impact on the welfare of the mules working in the mountain tourism industry. A series of workshops and training sessions will now be planned ahead of the coming trekking season. These will be focussed on the Toubkal National Park, the hub of the Moroccan mountain tourism industry but will also extend out to other areas.
British Association of International Mountain Leaders CPD weekend
The British Association of International Mountain Leaders (BAIML) held their Annual General Meeting weekend in early December 2014. This gathering saw over one hundred mountain professionals drawn together for a weekend of continuing professional development (CPD).
For the second year running, The Donkey Sanctuary offered a workshop to provide training in pack-animal care on expedition. Given that many of these International Mountain Leaders work for Expedition Providers Association companies, this workshop focussed very much on the new leader checks that they will be performing and helping with in the years ahead.
I was fortunate enough to have Stephen Blakeway, International Director of The Donkey Sanctuary, in attendance both for the workshop and for the dinner that followed the AGM. The AGM itself saw me voted in as President of the Association.
In my capacity as President of BAIML, I fully intend to promote a care ethic towards the mountain environment and mountain communities, wherever our members work. Needless to say, I see working equines as key members of mountain communities. I therefore find myself looking forward to a long and fruitful collaboration with The Donkey Sanctuary as we strive together to ensure that mules working in mountain tourism across the world are afforded similar levels of protection against exploitative practices to porters.
There are so many supporters and collaborators to whom we owe our thanks and gratitude. Many have contributed both materially and financially. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all. They include The Donkey Sanctuary, Mike McHugo, Haj Morris, Chris Short, Far Frontiers Expeditions, Outlook Expeditions, Camps International, World Challenge, Gaia Horsemanship, the Machin Foundation, Pukka Projects, BAIML, the Royal Geographical Society, Pat Colip, Kathryn Kelly, GlenMore Lodge and Karim Elmadi. Thank you one and all.