Photographers' Blog

Pakistan’s beasts of burden

By Sara Farid
May 8, 2014

Choa Saidan Shah, Pakistan
By Sara Farid

A donkey carrying sacks of coal walks through the narrow tunnels of a coal mine, in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The miners call their donkeys their “biggest treasure”, an animal whose strength and patience lets them work in some of the world’s most dangerous mines. But life in Pakistan’s mines is dangerous for everyone – there’s a constant risk of cave-ins, and the black dust floating in the air slowly fills up the lungs of both man and beast.

A young miner leads his team of donkeys back to the coal face to collect more coal underground in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The donkeys make twenty trips a day from the depths of the mine to the storage site where they dump the coal. For each trip, they are loaded up with coal sacks weighing 20 kg (44 lbs) each. The teams of four to six animals are guided to the surface, unloaded, then obediently turn and walk again towards the black hole.

A young miner rushes his donkeys back into the coal mine to fetch another load of coal in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab Province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

A miner with a stick in his hand walks his donkeys into the depths of a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The workers have made a choice to be down here, I think, even if it’s a bad choice made by poor people with few options. The donkeys haven’t chosen this life, but nevertheless they trudge trustingly up and down the tunnels, wounds on their backs and faces covered with coal dust. Why no bandages? I asked the miners. They laughed. Life inside the mines is hard for everyone.

A donkey walks past piles of coal stacked outside the coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

But the miners do what they can for their animals. After they finish work, they take them to shady trees. They feed the animals even before they wash the coal dust from their own faces. One miner tells me that these animals are like their babies. They can’t ask for anything, so we have to ensure we meet all their needs, he says. We care for them when they are sick, hungry or thirsty.

Tears of coal dust run down a donkey's face as it looks out of its shelter outside a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab Province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

No one cares for the miners when they are sick, hungry or thirsty, I think. I wonder how often a miner has to choose between spending his few dollars on himself or on the donkey that makes his work possible. Whether laboring under the earth or resting on its scarred surface, both are equally invisible to the wealthy elites who run this country.

Donkeys stand together and eat hay after they finish their day's work at the coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

At night, the donkeys sleep in a three-sided, run-down stable with small windows. The miners sleep on charpoys, or rope beds, in ramshackle shelters. It’s difficult to tell the difference between the stables and the miners’ shelter.

A miner pats his donkey after unloading coal from its back outside the mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The miners say the toughest donkeys that come from Afghanistan are also the most expensive. They pay about $600 for each Afghan donkey. The local ones go for half that price because the miners say they cannot endure the tough work in a coal mine. They get sick and die. The maximum life expectancy of a coal mining donkey is 12 to 13 years, compared to around 20 years for a donkey working outside.

Sami Ullah (L) and Bilal give medicine to their sick donkey suffering from fever in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

One miner lost two of his donkeys a few days back. The donkeys came down with fevers. It’s the dust inside the mine that makes the donkeys sick. The miner says he can barely provide for his own medicine, so it’s hard to care for the animals too. The miners try to get a doctor from the town downhill, but he cannot come every day, the miner tells me, so we have learned how to treat the donkeys. We are also skilled as vets, he jokes.

A donkey sits on the ground on a hot day to take rest after transporting loads of coal from the mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province May 5, 2014. Coal miners in Chao Saidan Shah in Pakistan use donkeys to transport coal from the depths of the mines to the surface. The donkeys make around 20 trips per day carrying sacks weighing about 20 kilos each. The work is dangerous with the constant risk of cave-ins. The miners say they do what they can to care for the animals with their limited resources, but the difficult conditions mean a donkey's life expectancy is 12-13 years, compared to 20 for a donkey working outside. May 8 is International Donkey Day, which The Donkey Sanctuary NGO says "aims to highlight the worthy contribution donkeys make throughout the world." REUTERS/Sara Farid

I asked them what they do with the dead donkeys. Do you bury them? He said there isn’t any space available to bury animals. We leave the dead donkeys in the jungle and they are eaten by the wild dogs.

Comments
2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Poor animals, normally they are so abused, in Pakistan, Egypt and other countries. I feel for them, human being make choices and no matter how poor they are they can talk and defend themselves somehow, but animals depend on our mercy only.

Posted by inesolmos | Report as abusive
 

Great article on the other side of the world where animals help humans in making money in contrast to the money spent on pampering animals.

Posted by SamG_HiC | Report as abusive
 

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