Life is tough for an­i­mals at Jor­dan’s Petra


On a hot sunny day in Jor­dan’s Petra, two tourists in the back of a horse-drawn car­riage gaze over the pic­turesque lost city.

The horse is re­luc­tant to move for­ward — it has been a long and gru­el­ing day trans­port­ing tourists on tricky, rocky ter­rain.

The obliv­i­ous pas­sen­gers don’t no­tice when the frus­trated coach driver un­leashes a fren­zied lash­ing of his horse.

A short dis­tance away next to the vis­i­tor cen­ter, dozens of horses, don­keys, mules and camels stand idle un­der the blis­ter­ing sun with­out shade.

They are some of the 1,350 an­i­mals put to work fer­ry­ing tourists at one of the most fa­mous and beau­ti­ful land­marks in the Mid­dle East, renowned world­wide for its unique gi­ant rock-cut ar­chi­tec­ture.

For years the only pro­fes­sional care for the an­i­mals came from a small and aging ve­teri­nary clinic.

But now two char­i­ties have joined forces with Jor­dan’s gov­ern­ment to im­prove the wel­fare of the an­i­mals who walk the trails of a UNESCO World Her­itage site that in 2007 was elected one of the New Seven Won­ders of the World.

“There was no treat­ment here. A few months ago I had to kill a horse be­cause I couldn’t of­fer him the ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment,” said Imad Hlalet, a vet­eri­nar­ian at the Petra clinic, where seven to 15 an­i­mals are treated per day.

The an­i­mals trans­port vis­i­tors on their backs or in car­riages over 10-kilo­me­ter (6-mile) treks through the an­cient city of the Na­bateans, which dates back to 400 B.C.

Ex­haus­tion, Lame­ness, Colic

The trails through tow­er­ing canyons once car­ried frank­in­cense, myrrh, silk and slaves but to­day the traf­fic is tourists — more than half a mil­lion a year ac­cord­ing to the Petra Na­tional Trust.

The an­i­mals are kept in poor con­di­tions and forced to carry or pull weights that are of­ten far too heavy for their size, ac­tivists say.

The work­ing days are far too long and many of the an­i­mals also have no shade, in­suf­fi­cient food and wa­ter and no quiet places to rest.

With limited ac­cess to ve­teri­nary care, many suf­fer from ex­haus­tion, lame­ness and colic.

Con­cerned over


treat- ment, the Four Paws An­i­mal Wel­fare group and the Princess Alia Foun­da­tion are work­ing with the min­istry of tourism to usher in a pro­gram aimed at halt­ing abuse and im­prov­ing living con­di­tions.

Vi­enna-based Four Paws will start pro­vid­ing the clinic with much-needed sup­plies of drugs and equip­ment. It will also train lo­cal vet­eri­nar­i­ans, project leader Robert Hengl said.

Sta­bles, rest ar­eas to pro­tect horses from the sun and troughs are also planned be­fore the sum­mer, when tem­per­a­tures soar above 40 de­grees Cel­sius (104 Fahren­heit).

“The first ad­vice we give is to avoid over­work­ing an­i­mals,” Hengl said, adding that an aware­ness cam­paign un­der­way is as im­por­tant as the treat­ment.

At the clinic a team from Four Paws is al­ready in ac­tion.

Vet­eri­nar­ian Ovidiu Rosu ex­am­ines the knee on the back leg of a horse who has been suf­fer­ing from an in­fec­tion for four months.

Syria War Knock-on Ef­fect

Ab­bayah, a mare, is be­ing seen for the first time.

“I cleaned the wound and ad­min­is­tered an an­tibi­otic. She must rest for a few weeks and she will be much bet­ter,” Rosu tells Ab­bayah’s owner, Ahmed Mchaalia.

Lo­cal guides have wel­comed the new ini­tia­tive, com­plain­ing that the cur­rent med­i­cal cen­ter is ille­quipped and can­not cope with the num­ber of an­i­mals re­quir­ing med­i­cal treat­ment.

Petra’s an­i­mals are reg­u­larly vic­tims of in­jury as they work over rough and slip­pery trails — es­pe­cially the Siq path, a wind­ing and nar­row gorge be­tween sand­stone moun­tains that many of the an­i­mals cross sev­eral times a day.

Ac­tivists and vet­eri­nar­i­ans say an­i­mals drawing car­riages are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble.

“We have asked the min­istry of tourism to ban horse-drawn car­riages, but they told us that this method of trans­port was es­sen­tial for tourists who can’t han­dle the long walk,” Hlalet said.

The con­flict in Jor­dan’s neigh­bor Syria has also had a knock-on ef­fect on the an­i­mals.

Guides — of­ten obliv­i­ous to their an­i­mals’ wel­fare — are push­ing their an­i­mals harder to make ends meet due to a sig­nif­i­cant drop in tourists since the start of Syria’s civil con­flict four years ago.

About 975,000 peo­ple vis­ited Petra in 2010. Last year the num­ber was about 596,600.

Wait­ing for clients with

his horse at the en­trance to Petra, Tarek echoes the com­plaints of many of his fel­low guides.

“Tourism is dead at the mo­ment in Jor­dan.”


(Above) Camels used for trans­port­ing vis­i­tors wait for tourists at the an­cient city of Petra in Jor­dan on March 25. (Top) Tourists ride a camel at the an­cient city of Petra on March 25.

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