This week, the Today Programme on BBC Radio Four broadcast an excellent report about the pack mules which are playing a vital supporting role to firefighters tackling wildfires in the US; a video of the same report also appeared on the BBC website. We sent this response as feedback to the report, which we felt portrayed the work done by the mules, and the way they are valued by their handlers, in a very positive light.
The report by Peter Bowes on the important role played by mules in fighting the forest fires in California, as pack animals transporting equipment into difficult terrain, was very heart-warming for us in the international operations department of The Donkey Sanctuary.
We welcome the report’s recognition of the mules’ practical and economic advantages over mechanised vehicles in this particular working environment, and the fact that the mules are clearly well cared for and in good condition. We particularly like the closing comments from the pack mules’ co-ordinator, Michael Morse, about how he loves working alongside them, describing their ‘pleasure’ in doing a good job, as well as his own.
This really chimes with what we come across in our work with donkey and mule owning communities around the world. Unlike the Californian mule handlers, these are generally very poor people in developing countries. They rely on their animals to farm the land, transport daily essentials and give them a livelihood, in areas where there is no mechanised alternative available to them. While mistreatment and neglect of donkeys and mules is an unfortunate fact of life in these very harsh economic conditions, we do also meet many people who value and appreciate their working animals, have a good relationship with them, and are very receptive to the training and community education we provide to help them make the most of the resources they do have, to improve welfare for their donkeys and themselves.
We’re always keen to promote the many ways in which animals benefit the human race. Reports like this - illustrating the public service provided by the pack mules, their economic and practical advantages, and the personal happiness and satisfaction enjoyed by their handler - are tremendously valuable and effective in spreading this message.
Sadly, there are still many other donkeys and mules in the world that do not enjoy good care and welfare, and The Donkey Sanctuary supports much-needed projects in 28 countries.
BBC News, 29 August 2012
Can firefighting mules balance California's budget?