Mules have been the backbone of the mountain tourism industry in Morocco for over thirty years. Every year thousands of intrepid British tourists flock to the valleys of the High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech to embark on adventurous treks run by expedition providers based in the UK. The tours are designed to challenge young trekkers and give them a unique and unforgettable Moroccan experience. Sadly for the mules, the experience is rarely so positive. Many local muleteers and owners still use brutal, badly designed bits that lead to severe mouth injuries and thin, nylon tethers that cut into the legs. In addition, mules are often overloaded which, on long treks through challenging mountainous terrain, can lead to significant discomfort, serious injury or even death.
Until recently, no significant attempt was made to improve pack-mule welfare but, in 2008, The Donkey Sanctuary began working with Glen Cousquer, a vet and International Mountain Leader. With funding from The Donkey Sanctuary, Glen has spent the past six years working to improve the welfare of pack mules working on expeditions and treks drawing on extensive and painstaking field research into the key welfare problems and their causes, whilst also developing and delivering training programmes for trekking guides.
Thanks to Glen’s tireless work, a set of Leader Checks is now in place to help safeguard the welfare of mules working on expeditions. Developed by Glen and The Donkey Sanctuary, the Leader Checks are now recognised as good practice for companies complying with national standards, such as British Standard BS 8848 for managing risk in adventure travel. This checklist has been put together for members of the Expedition Provider’s Association (the British organisation dedicated to promoting standards in safety and quality on overseas trips) to help leaders, guides and owners assess and manage the welfare of pack mules around the world. It follows The Donkey Sanctuary’s ‘hands-on’ approach to welfare assessment – a simple tool that enables anyone to make meaningful comments about welfare, even if they have limited experience with donkeys and mules.
You can read more about the checklist in Promoting Pack Mule Welfare on Expedition written by Glen for The Mountain Professional magazine.