Kate on Conservation

5 Signs that Petra’s Working Animals are Suffering — and How to Help Them

5 signs that Petra's Working Animals are suffering -- and how to help them

This National Animal Rights Day, I’d like to share with you an important guest blog post from Di, aka The Elephant Soul. Di details her recent experiences of encountering neglected and abused working animals during a visit to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra.

The Silent Agony of Petra’s Working Animals

Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A magnificent and unparalleled place for sure. The minute you walk into this beautiful heritage site you can sense you’re in an extraordinary place. At the same time, you get a sense of how Petra’s working animals are treated. Part of the problem is that their handlers continuously encourage you to ride the animals, right from the start. “It’s included in your ticket.” “Do you want to ride a horse? We can take you to X,Y,Z place.”

Having had read about the exploitation of animals in Petra before my trip back in 2017, I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. It was worse. I remember being so appalled by it that I didn’t even got to go to one of the main monuments. I needed to leave. ASAP. It took me almost four years to go back to Petra after my first visit. Here are 5 things I learned to look out for this second time around…

1. Neglect

Children – mainly boys – are given a donkey from an early age. Due to the distance and topography of some of the villages around the heritage site, many of the children would need to walk over an hour to get to school. This results in a high percent of absenteeism and a lot of time on their hands.

It has been documented how many animals have been mistreated, injured and suffered falls just “for fun” in the hands of their handlers. During our visit we saw many boys and teenagers hanging out at Petra and in surrounding areas. Many of them racing with their donkeys, hitting them with a stick, harassing them or just letting them tied with a short rope under the hot sun.

Rumi donkey mare
Image courtesy of PETA in Petra. This beautiful mare is Rumi. After I called them, PETA’s staff came quickly to pick her up and take her to their clinic for treatment.

Ibrahim (or Abraham as he introduced himself) was one of the bright teenagers we met during our trip. His warm smile and English fluidity prompted me to chat with him for a bit. Ibrahim told me that his donkey, a young one called SuSu was given to him when he was seven. Ibrahim is 15 now. They’ve been together since.

As an animal welfare activist, I know well how to look for signs of abuse and neglect. SuSu seemed healthy. He looked cared after. I talked to Ibrahim about my concerns and the animals I had seen with open wounds and tight chains stiffened around their snout. He knew what I was talking about.

Ibrahim told me that he wasn’t like the rest and that he gave SuSu water and grass every day. He also understood well, I assume from people’s complaints, that the abused animals in Petra was something many Westeners/foreigners hate seeing. “I know, I know, but I am different.” Ibrahim seemed like he truly cared for his donkey and, seeing SuSu as proof, I believe him.

2. Malnutrition

Many of these animals eat from the trash cans around town. You won’t see this in the main Petra site, but since many of them walk every day from surrounding neighbourhoods around Wadi Musa, they eat whatever they find as they can’t count on consistent food or water.

During my last visit, we saw many donkeys looking for food in the large trash bins or eating cardboard. There was no fresh water at all for them.

Neglected Donkey from Petra Jordan 2021 eating cardboard
This donkey was eating cardboard boxes when I stopped to feed them at Bayda close to Little Petra. Many of them on the other side of this parking lot were also looking for food in the trash cans. Image © The Elephant Soul

3. Harsh conditions

Donkey’s take tourists to different parts of Petra. The Monastery being a popular donkey route, which is about 1,000 steps in a very steep hill.

Witnesses have reported seeing them get beaten and whipped back and forth. It doesn’t matter if they donkeys are sick or injured.

Not once during both of my trips did I see a feeding station, a water station or a shaded resting area. The one near the entrance is usually used by the horses. Horses are also widely exploited, showing deep injuries on the side of their ribs and stomach.

Wounded white horse that pulls chariots
Photo I took of an injured horse found during my first trip to Petra. I spoke to the owners and they said that the wound was much better and that it used to be worse. The horse was still forced to work.. Image ©The Elephant Soul

4. Overworked

Donkeys make the trip up to the Monastery five times a day.

Aside from being forced to work carrying tourists or load on their back, these animals are kept tied to a rock, to a stick or simply abandoned on the road, usually under the steaming sun.

In my 2017 article “Petra by Foot: How You Can Play a Key Role in the Welfare of Working Animals”, I shared the images of these animals bleeding as they were coming down from the High Place of Sacrifice.

5. Abused

Aside from starving donkeys, the vast majority (except maybe for SuSu and one who was alone on our way to Jabal Haroun) most of them had scars, flies on their wounds, tender snouts marked by the tight chains they use, open injuries and the saddest look in their eyes.

They didn’t want people to come near. Some even rejected the apples I brought for them. Living miserable lives with not many people seeing what riding them does to them, I could understand.

One of Petra’s donkeys shows signs of abuse and neglect, a common fate for Petra’s working animals. The lacerations on his front right leg and back with the exposed skin are the result of being overworked at the heritage site. Image ©The Elephant Soul

Ways to Help…

Needless to say, many of us have felt extremely saddened and powerless by the cruelty you see in Petra. Indifference is one of the main challenges you encounter.

However, thanks to sharing this on social media, I came across PETA’s Clinic in Petra. This is the only animal welfare organization operating there.

Image courtesy of PETA in Petra. Mule receiving treatment at the Petra Clinic supported by PETA. He had a wound on the front leg that is being cleaned and bandaged.

It took them over two years to get the consent to open a clinic in Petra to help these abused animals there despite the ample evidence provided and the investigations carried out during two consecutive years.

After seeing first hand what happens – and continues to happen – in Petra, I’d like to encourage you to make a difference. It’s possible! Here are some ways you can help them today.

1. Take photos

Images make an impact. The photos you share on your social media, on animal welfare groups and with your network of friends can have a ripple effect. Make sure to share the location of where you saw the animals, the time and the date. Some groups you can contact in Jordan are: Tabanni, Al Rahmeh, Jordan Appeal.

2. Don’t Ride

If there’s one thing you can do is to not ride the camels, horses or donkeys at Petra. The money you spend on a ride doesn’t benefit them. They’re still eating from the trash. The demand for their labor just perpetuates the abuse for years and years. Their struggles and hardship continue as people pay for the painful rides. Camels are not better off. PETA’s Petra Clinic has assisted many who have been injured and neglected.

Wounded Donkey at Petra 2021
Lacerations and open wound on one of Petra’s working donkeys. This photo was taken during my recent trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site in May 2021. Image ©The Elephant Soul

3. Speak up

If you see animals being abused, say something. During our walk to Jabal Haroun (Petra’s tallest mountain) we saw a woman beating her donkey for no reason. I spoke up. She stopped for at least the time we still could see her. I also saw kids throwing stones at stray dogs. I again spoke up. Change won’t happen if we decide to turn our eyes away from cruelty. We are their voice. We have to use it.

4. Report

The email address that Petra’s tourist office gave us is info@visitpetra.jo I would encourage you to also leave a review on TripAdvisor’s Petra section. You’ll see you’re not alone.

Many people have shared about the horrible conditions of these working animals. Tourists have also gotten injured as a result of the racing horse carriages.

Please report the abuse you see to the Petra police authorities while you’re there. All this helps them see that the abuse continues -as it does- today and that people want to see this stop. If you see an injured animal in need, please contact nadiaa@peta.org or call +962 79 508 1536

Image courtesy of PETA in Petra. Food, an adequate shelter for recovery and medical assistance are some of the services offered at the clinic run by the only animal welfare organization working there.

5. Support

Now that I know that PETA has a clinic in Petra, I want people – both Jordanians, tourists and expats – to know there is a way to help either by calling them so that these working animals get medical assistance or by donating to continue to support their work.

I talked to the PETA Petra Clinic representative and told them about a beautiful pregnant mare who was injured. Rumi, as I came to learn, had been treated at the clinic before. They responded right away and sent a team to pick her up and take her to their facilities for treatment. This kind of action deserves recognition as it is thanks to them that many lives are saved or improved.

This foal  n Petra was taken to PETA’s clinic for medical care. He had scarring in his throat and had difficulties swallowing.
Image courtesy of PETA in Petra. This foal was taken to PETA’s clinic for medical care. He had scarring in his throat and had difficulties swallowing.

6. Feed

Bring food with you. This won’t end the problem and it probably won’t be enough to fill their tummies, but it shows others to be compassionate and that you’re concerned about the animals’ wellbeing.

Showing acts of kindness goes a long way. After I fed and pet the animals, the children emulated me. I made sure on both trips to bring apples and carrots. Lots of them.

One of the many abused donkeys we saw during our trip to Petra in May 2021
One of the many abused donkeys we saw during our trip to Petra in May 2021. We brought carrots and apples to feed them. Image ©The Elephant Soul

Main Takeaways

It is very clear that the lack of awareness from tourists and the absence of good animal husbandry practices contribute to this issue. From what we learned, the owners of these animals are aware that they are injured and that they need medicine, but they refuse to give them a day’s rest. After I talked to one of them who’s horse had a giant wound, he told me that they expect the local authorities to provide them with medical assistance, even though these animals are privately owned.

Making a difference starts with me and you. We can use our phone, our voice, our contacts and our love to make a difference, today.

  1. Don’t ride Them
  2. Share their Story
  3. Speak Up
  4. Report the Abuse
  5. Feed Them
  6. Contact PETA’s Petra Clinic at nadiaa@peta.org or call +962 79 508 1536
  7. Donate

Please consider making a donation to PETA Petra and to spread the word about their work. They’re the only ones doing something to protect and care for these animals. Thanks to PETA’s work in the Petra area, some owners have agreed to get help to feed their animals. Their support is crucial, especially when there’s not a lot of tourism or income.

About the author

Di is an activist, photographer and vegan lifestyle blogger currently living in Amman, Jordan. Since she her teenage years she knew that she wanted to travel and help wild animals. She raises awareness of animals in captivity, particularly the plight of Asian elephants, and works to improve their living conditions through raising awareness.

You can find her blog, The Elephant Soul, over at: http://www.theelephantsoul.com

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