Petra by Foot: How You Can Play a Key Role in the Welfare of Working Animals

The following post and all images were submitted by Diana D., an expat currently living in Jordan. She is an artist and animal activist, especially dedicated to saving captive elephants. You can find her on Instagram at @elephantsoulcrafts.

Seeing the majestic rose red stones as you walk through the Siq just before discovering the Treasury for the first time is an unforgettable experience. The steep carved rocks that you see throughout the walk are extraordinary, and not to mention the views when you get all the way up to the High Place of Sacrifice! Honestly, Petra’s beauty is incomparable.

We were so excited to finally travel there and see this UNESCO World Heritage Site. During our two-day visit, we saw the highlights of this magnificent archeological complex. Sadly, that was not the only thing we saw. The donkeys, horses and camels that you find there are beaten, exploited and overworked. We did not see any buckets of water nearby and the animals were covered in sweat and panting after the first couple of rides. It was only 10 a.m.

We approached one of the horses that was pulling the carriage to see his condition. Apparently, there’s a different breed of horses that are used for this specific purpose. One of the handlers explained to us that they were stronger than the rest. Nonetheless, these horses had open wounds on their stomach from pulling tourists up and down the road. There was a bleeding lesion on their skin but they still had the belt, the chains and the rest of the armor so that they could continue to work.

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Both days had something in common: the amount of tourists visiting and the overwhelming number of animals being abused. During our brief time there we saw:

  • Four large men being pulled by the horse in chariot #6. The horse had bandages on two of his legs.
  • One overweight man on a young donkey going all the way up to the High Place of
    Sacrifice. There were traces of blood on the track he walked through.
  • A white donkey right outside the Treasury with an injury on his snout. The nose was bleeding and flies were on it.
  • A handler telling a tourist “If you want to go fast, kick him in his a**!” referring to the horse he was riding.
  • A young boy pulling a horse from the rope and throwing stones at him so that he would go faster.
  • Donkeys with no teeth left and tight rusty chains tied around their mouth. They also had blisters from where the handlers pull them with the metal braces.

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. They also expect the local authorities to provide them with medical assistance, even though these animals are privately owned. In contrast, the horses used by the tourist police looked very healthy and strong.

There are loads of recent reviews on TripAdvisor that talk specifically about the abuse of
donkeys and horses at the popular Heritage Site and I want to add my voice to this issue, as I think this magnificent world wonder could be far more enjoyable if there was not a rampant cruelty to its working animals.

What can be some of the solutions to this problem?

  1. Replace animals for golf carts: The option of using golf carts for the transportation of tourists is very appealing. The few tourists we saw on them looked very comfortable and were able to make it faster to the main sites than the rest of us. No cruelty involved.
  2. Create a sanctuary at the site to retire the ill, old and weak donkeys, horses and camels: Many people, especially families with children, would very likely come visit these animals to a sanctuary. Handlers and owners could charge an entrance fee for people to come see them and feed them. That way, there still could be a profit for the owners but in a more compassionate way.
  3. Reinforce and review good practices for animal husbandry: Get local authorities
    involved so that it is ensured that the handlers and owners allow the animals to take sick leave, get good veterinary care, replace the old rusty chains for other types of ones materials that are more comfortable for the animals, improve their diet and add fresh and nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables at least once a day, make sure there is access to clean water at all times, not only when they rest at night.
  4. Stop the beating and mistreatment of animals: Use positive reinforcement in lieu of
    aggression and tools used to control the animals. These animals are used to working with their handlers and they seemed to obey their commands; however, the abusive practices of beating them, pulling their hair and kicking them take place all day long.
  5. Limit the number of passengers per chariot: The two injured horses that we saw were pulling chariots at high speed. Their handlers were pushing their limits by going fast up or down the hill and it is not only irresponsible but also dangerous. By doing less rides and taking less people at a time, they will improve the condition of its working animals which will result into healthier, happier horses.

All these suggestions could bring a long-term relief to these animals. In the meantime, and after witnessing serious cases of cruelty, the one thing I can really recommend is that you don’t ride any of them. Walking around Petra is very enjoyable and you don’t need to participate in this kind of cruelty. Our choices do matter and we send a strong message to the donkey and horse owners by not partaking.

I hope you find this information useful. Please note that you can also join this cause and denounce these abusive practices. If you’re in Petra, as you enter the Visitor Center, there’s a sign that says that you can report any abuse or mistreatment of animals to the Tourist Police or to the Park Rangers. When we approached the officers at the Visitor Center they asked us to send an email and photos to and they said that they do follow up and let the authorities involved know.

We have done that and you can do it too when you see what happens so openly at Petra. Take photos and share them. Get involved. You can help change their fate!

5 thoughts on “Petra by Foot: How You Can Play a Key Role in the Welfare of Working Animals

  1. I last visited in March 2016. Like you, we were not impressed with the treatment of horses, donkeys and camels but PROMINENTLY displayed everywhere were posters stating if you saw abuse to take a picture and send an email – also there were informative cartoon posters about not allowing a largely overweight person on a small animal and other abuses…
    This is also good news.
    The other side is that Jordanians do rely on the income generated by animal transport – but they have to learn to treat them better.


    1. Apparently the posters about “reporting” the abuse have an incorrect email address on them and the phone number doesn’t work. smh…


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