Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hard times for Jordan’s donkeys amid Covid-19



Hard times for Jordan’s donkeys amid Covid-19

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Tourists ride donkeys and horses as they visit Jordan’s ancient city of Petra on May 27 after it reopened following closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. AFP

Hard times for Jordan’s donkeys amid Covid-19

Herds of hard-working donkeys once carried hordes of tourists on the rocky paths of Jordan’s Petra, but visitor numbers crashed amid the pandemic and the loyal animals are left without a job.

“Before coronavirus, we all had work,” said Abdulrahman Ali, a 15-year-old donkey owner at the ancient rock-carved desert city, where the sure-footed animals carry tourists up steep paths in the blazing sun.

“The Bedouins of Petra made a living and fed their animals,” he said, sitting waiting for a handout of fodder from a charity, explaining that many owners today are struggling to meet the cost of feeding them.

In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time.

But in March 2020, the famous tourist destination was closed, and the crucial income from the tourists dried up.

Dependent on tourism

“When tourism stopped, nobody could buy fodder or medicine anymore,” said Ali, who could earn as much as $280 on a good day, supporting his mother and two brothers.

“Anyone who has a little amount of money now spends it on his own food, not his animal.”

Before the pandemic, tourism made up more than a tenth of Jordan’s GDP, but revenues slumped from $5.8 billion in 2019 to $1 billion last year, according to government figures.

Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound.

Only some 200 visitors a day come to Petra, compared to more than 3,000 before the pandemic hit, said Suleiman Farajat, heading the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority.

Farajat said some 200 guides used as many as 800 animals – including horses, camels and mules as well as donkeys – for tourist rides across the desert site.

The economic ripple effect of tourism was widespread.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Jordanian donkey owner waits for customers in Jordan’s ancient city of Petra on May 27. AFP

“Before the crisis, 80 per cent of the inhabitants of the region depended directly or indirectly on tourism,” Farajat said.

“With the pandemic, not only working animal owners were affected, but also hotels, restaurants, those with souvenir shops or stores, and hundreds of employees have lost their jobs.”

Many donkey owners are turning to a clinic supported by the animal rights group PETA, where vets treat maltreated and malnourished donkeys for free.

“Before coronavirus, my family and I owned seven donkeys working in Petra,” said Mohammad al-Badoul, 23, waiting with four other donkey owners to fill a sack with animal feed.

“We had to sell them for lack of income. Now we only have one, and I can barely feed it.”

‘Starving’

Egyptian vet Hassan Shatta, an equine surgery specialist who runs the PETA clinic, said he launched a donkey-feeding programme late last year.

“During the Covid-19 lockdown, and with the lack of tourism, people could not afford to feed their animals anymore,” Shatta said.

“Some of them ended up starving and we picked them up brought them here,” he added, noting some 250 animals had been treated, with some 10-15 cases arriving a day.

In the past, PETA had treated animals with deep cuts from being beaten or abused, but Farajat, from Petra’s tourism authority, says the working conditions of the donkeys is now “not that bad”.

But there are plans to replace some of the traditional donkeys with a new system of 20 electric cars introduced by the tourism board next month.

The cars will be “driven by the animal owners,” Farajat said.

Switching to electric cars will, Farajat hopes, put an end to the criticisms against the mistreatment inflicted on animals.

MOST VIEWED

  • With herd immunity likely in 2022, is Cambodia ready to reopen for tourism?

    The government aims to inoculate 80 per cent of the target population by June next year, giving it a head start among regional peers to reboot the sector but first, it has to do a few things to up its game A sign on a glass

  • Quarantine still a must for all arrivals, in next Covid chapter

    Since early May, an average of five to 10 Cambodian people have died from Covid-19 a day with many others testing positive amid the ongoing community outbreak. At the same time, however, hundreds of patients also recovered a day. The first Covid-19 case in Cambodia was

  • US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

    On June 11, the US embassy's Defense Attaché Colonel Marcus M Ferrara visited Ream Nava Base in coordination with Cambodian officials following the recent approval of Prime minister Hun Sen to allay the concerns on Chinese military presence at the base as raised by US Deputy

  • Jab drive heading to 5 provinces

    The government is set to vaccinate more than 1.2 million people in five provinces after finishing with Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal in an ongoing campaign administered by the ministries of Health and National Defence. The five provinces are Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampong Cham

  • First commercial gold mine online

    Australian miner Renaissance Minerals (Cambodia) Ltd on June 21 began the commercial operation of its $120 million Okvau Gold Project in the northeastern province of Mondulkiri, becoming the Kingdom’s first gold producer. Located in the Okvau area in southwestern Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seima district, the

  • New immigration bill targets illegal foreigners in Kingdom

    General Department of Immigration (GDI) officials are discussing revisions to the new draft law on immigration to prevent foreigners from entering Cambodia illegally and to supervise those living in the Kingdom more effectively. The revisions draw wide support among civil society organisations. GDI director-general Kirth