Over the past few months, I have followed the trials and tribulations of this year’s intake of students, undertaking the guide training course at the Centre de Formation des Métiers de Montagne (CFAMM). My last blog described their final expedition – a gruelling 300km trek across the Moroccan High Atlas, culminating on the Toubkal which, at 4,167m, is the highest peak in North Africa.
Towards the end of the expedition, but still two days from the Toubkal, the students arrived at the ski resort of Oukaïmeden. The mules, muleteers and students had endured a long hard day, which for the students included a crossing of the Tizi n Ouhattar (3,130m).
Despite their late finish, they all gathered towards midnight to debate the merits of the muleteers and to designate those they thought merited being awarded the prize for best muleteer. This prize giving was initiated by The Donkey Sanctuary for the first time last year and seeks to promote a discussion about the qualities that a good muleteer should have and that a guide should be able to recognise.
In 2013, the two winning muleteers were given snaffle bits for their mules. To our delight, one of these prize winners demonstrated this year that a mule can be managed perfectly well using this kind of bit.
This year, the two most caring muleteers were awarded a harness-maintenance and repair kit and a head collar respectively.
Over the course of the year, I collate the marks the students receive for their essays on animal welfare in mountain tourism, for their classroom exams and for the oral presentations they give on trek. This allows me to evaluate the students in a very thorough manner. Prizes are then awarded to reward those students whose efforts have been particularly noteworthy.
We were very fortunate to be received by SPANA Maroc, in the gardens of their Marrakech clinic, for the annual prize-giving. The team at the clinic and, in particular, Dr Boubker Elmouhaine, have provided incredible support to this training programme over the years. It is usually Boubker who undertakes the veterinary inspection of the mules at the start and end of the trek and this was the case again in 2014. This partnership has provided us with fantastic opportunities for knowledge exchange and shared learning. The prize-giving ceremony is also an opportunity for the student guides to visit the SPANA Maroc centre nearest to the mountains and gain further understanding of their work. This is, after all, an exercise in collaboration for it is only by working together that we can improve the welfare of pack mules working in this industry.
This year, five prizes were awarded. The prize winners were Brahim Imzilen, Redouan Kerouach, Rachid Dinaoui, Ali Bazzi and Elhoussain Aït Lmouden. On hand to present the prizes and congratulate the students were Dr Aniko Boehler of Montagne Propre, Professor Hassan Alyakine of SPANA Maroc, Drs Hassan Lamrini and Boubker Elmouhaine of SPANA Maroc’s Marrakech clinic and myself.
This year, the award for best student was kindly donated by Equip UK. This meant that this year’s top student, Elhoussain Aït Lmouden, whose conscientious and caring approach towards mules had caused him to stand out from his peers, received a fantastic RAB sleeping bag!
Over the years we have been very fortunate to receive the support of outdoor companies seeking to support our work. We are particularly grateful to Above and Beyond who have supported us from the outset and contributed a significant number of student prizes.
It is by promoting such relationships and by actively seeking to work with a range of partners that we are able to develop greater awareness of mule welfare across the outdoor industry.