The past few weeks have been nothing short of momentous here in Imlil, trailhead for the highest mountain in North Africa and gateway to Morocco’s Toubkal National Park.
Over the past few years we have been working extremely hard to build a network of partnerships across the community. We have contributed to the training of all the young guides working in the area and have now established a community project that extends across the tourism industry to include hotels, gîtes, trekking agencies, the village association, the local muleteer associations, the local women’s cooperative, the park authority, the French Alpine Club (CAF) and a range of professional organisations.
A community partnership brings together key players active within the sector so that they can more effectively improve the welfare of the pack mule working in the mountain tourism industry. The combined weight, will-power and resources of these organisations have been harnessed to bring about an incredible synergy that promises to transform the sector.
Water troughs help ensure freedom from thirst
The Association Bassins d'Imlil (ABI) has funded the construction of three water troughs to ensure mules have access to water across the village. This initiative was instigated by Hajj Maurice, of the Kasbah du Toubkal when he discovered that this most basic need was being neglected. Research conducted earlier in the year had identified that mules are not watered during the course of the morning and typically leave home to start work in a dehydrated state. They can then be left in full sunshine waiting for work with no access to water.
The Association has also now placed an order for three hundred humane tethers with the Association Tamghart Noudrar (which literally means ‘the women of the mountain’). The women have been perfecting the leather sheath that is placed over the climbing rope tethers and have benefited from the advice of The Donkey Sanctuary’s harness expert, Chris Garrett. Retired climbing ropes are being donated by national mountain centres in the UK, climbing clubs and a wide range of organisations and individuals for this purpose.
Posters and panels have been developed to stimulate awareness and discussion around key welfare problems such as overloading and tethering. These are being hosted and displayed by hotels, gîtes and refuges across the National Park. Within minutes of the first sign going up it was being read avidly by local school children, muleteers and tourists alike. It has been deliberately positioned on the path that all trekkers heading for the Toubkal must take and will be read by tens of thousands of visitors every year!
Advocacy within key industry bodies
One of our key allies is the expeditions company Far Frontiers. Their ‘man-at the-helm’, Chris Short, has been instrumental in encouraging the Expedition Provider’s Association to sign up to support a detailed proposal to tackle the many welfare abuses that have plagued the industry for so long. On the 11th September, this proposal was unanimously accepted by the Association and will inform and underpin the work to be undertaken over the coming year ahead.
Retirement for mules
Perhaps one of the more challenging and perturbing welfare issues for mules in the High Atlas is what they face when they are deemed no longer able to continue working on steep terrain. These ‘end-of-life’ issues are being studied very closely by the Association des Bassins d’Imlil in conjunction with Jarjeer Mules and other partners. The possibility of purchasing old mules from their owners – thus sparing them the awful fate of being sold to work the streets of Marrakech - is receiving particular attention.
These are exciting times in Imlil and we are delighted to see so many partners working together to ensure that the cause of mule welfare burns bright and continues to do so as the tourism industry seeks to become more sustainable, ecological and ethical. Thanks to all of you for your hard work and for believing that mule welfare is a cause worth standing up for.