Bedouin tribesmen who work in the tourist industry around Petra, Jordan offer tourists the chance to visit the “lost city” on back of a horse, donkey or camel or by riding in a cart pulled by animals. Hidden behind this tourist trade is rampant cruelty, alleges animal rights organisation PETA. The group has released an investigation documenting the abuse and mistreatment of 1,300 horses, donkeys, mules and camels forced to work in extreme conditions around Petra.

If you Google “Petra” and “tourism”, some of the first photos that pop up show tourists riding donkeys, horses or camels. However, that might not be such a great idea, says PETA: their investigation published in mid-January features a series of photos and videos documenting the mistreatment of these animals. The footage shows men and sometimes even children beating donkeys with sticks, ropes or whips while riding them. Other videos show donkeys climbing narrow staircases with tourists on their backs. Other photos show animals with gaping wounds, which PETA says went untreated. Sometimes these injuries were caused by blows, while other times, they were the result of too-tight harnesses.

“Many of these animals limp and seem to suffer from colic and exhaustion”

Jason Baker is the vice president of international campaigns for PETA Asia. He coordinated this investigation, which was published on PETA’s website.
 

After receiving several complaints from tourists who had seen animals being mistreated in Petra, PETA decided to investigate. The investigation, carried out between August and October 2017, found that there are about 1,300 camels, mules and horses forced to transport tourists on their backs or in carts around Petra in scorching heat.


The animals have no reprieve from the direct sunlight, according to PETA. (Photos published in the report by PETA.)
 

The guides force the donkeys and mules to climb up and down the 900 steps of a monastery with tourists on their backs. Horses also pull carts on 10-kilometre loops around the old city several times a day.

After a trip, the animals are tied up in the sun to wait for the next customers. Many limp and seem to suffer from colic or exhaustion. Forcing a donkey to carry a person can cause serious injury, especially if the person weighs more than 45 kilograms (around 100 pounds).
 

An injured camel. (Photo published in the PETA report).   
 

“Tour operators and hotels should take responsibility to raise awareness and inform their customers”

The photos and videos that we published in our report were taken by investigators from PETA Asia who went to all of the places that are open to any member of the public with tickets to the Petra archaeological site.

We launched a campaign aiming to raise awareness and to discourage them from riding the animals. We also demanded that Jordan’s minister of tourism ban work animals from the Petra site and, when possible, replace them with motorised vehicles. Tour operators and hotels should also take responsibility for raising awareness and informing their customers about the widespread mistreatment of animals in the old city.

It seems as if local authorities have made some effort to raise awareness amongst visitors, but the ticket to enter the site includes a ride in an animal-drawn cart! After pressure from the Petra Development & Tourism Region Authority, a sign was erected that asks visitors to report animal cruelty by sending a message to a certain email address… that doesn’t even work.

“The animal abuse is tied to the fact that it has become an economy for the local population and, sometimes, it represents their only income”

But for Professor Sami Alhasanat, a lecturer at the Petra College for Tourism and Archaeology at University Alhussein Bin Talal, located just 20 kilometres from Petra, it’s important to remember that these animals are part of life in Petra and represent the main source of income for local people.

 

There have been animals in Petra since the beginning of time. The local people are descended from nomads. They’ve always used camels, horses and mules for transport.

Tourism disrupted the locals’ economic transition. Our community went from a subsistence economy to a tourism economy. Local people lost their traditional way of life when they became involved with tourism. But these animals, which have always been partners for the local population, stayed.

When tourism began to develop in Petra, these animals were used to make the visitors more comfortable. For example, horses-drawn carts are used for people who couldn’t do the tour on foot. It isn’t all bad. But I think the abuse is tied to the fact that it’s become a veritable economy for the local population and that, often, these animals represent their only income.

There are more and more young people, even children, who offer tourists animal rides. To fight against this trend, I think that, first, we need to implement policies meant to integrate the local population into the tourism industry and also to launch education and school enrollment campaigns. Also, I think that [PETA’s] idea to use motorised vehicles is a poor one because Petra must retain its natural charm [Editor’s note: Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and UNESCO also disapproves of this idea].


After PETA’s investigation was published, Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities said in interviews with the local press that cruelty to animals is a crime punishable under Jordanian law. The minister also asked the police units responsible for the site to increase their vigilance in identifying and punishing animal cruelty.