No work for Jordan’s donkeys as COVID stalls tourism

Published on : Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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 USD280 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 USD5.8 billion in 2019 to USD1 billion last year, according to government figures. Since Petra re-opened 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.


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