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Glen Cousquer's blog
The welfare of pack mules working in the mountain tourism and expeditions industry continues to attract a great deal of attention. This weekend (18 November) the Royal Geographic Society will be hosting EXPLORE 2016. This special event is the Society’s annual expedition and field research planning weekend and is the largest gathering of its kind, bringing together a wide range of expert speakers and adventurers.
The communities involved in mountain tourism in the High Atlas of Morocco are remote and materially poor. It is only with the arrival of tourism that they started purchasing mules in order to find work in this new industry. With little or no knowledge as to how to train and work these highly intelligent animals, they resorted to the tools and practices available locally. Some of these, sadly, have barely evolved from medieval times and have hidden but devastating effects on the mule’s well-being. The locally produced bit in particular is a brutal but highly effective instrument that can be relied upon to force the animal to submit and to work. It is hardly surprising therefore that the relationship between man and mule is largely characterised by fear and distrust.
Since the Expedition Providers Association (EPA) introduced their Charter of Care for Pack Mules working in the Moroccan mountain-tourism industry in 2015, we have been working hard to help their members translate the standard into policies and implement these on the ground. This has meant a strong focus on training their ground handler teams in best practice when working loaded mules in the mountains.
The traditional bit is a medieval instrument that has, for far too long, allowed man to control and dominate the mule. It is widely used across Morocco, causing pain, suffering and great discomfort to the country’s mules. The bit is often used to drive on mules whose tired, aging, arthritic bodies are no longer able to work in the mountains and it is in these older mules that the worst injuries are seen - horrendous injuries to the sensitive tissues of a mule’s mouth.
Like mules, muleteers are all too easily dismissed as low status and barely worthy of a second thought. Our efforts to improve the lives and welfare of mules and muleteers in the Toubkal National Park seek to challenge this view and have chalked up some significant successes over the past few weeks and months. We have succeeded in building a coalition of partners all determined to advance the cause of animal welfare in the Moroccan mountain tourism industry. And, thanks to their collective efforts, this week saw an unprecedented gathering of people in the mountain village of Imlil, south of Marrakech.