When you think of a beast of burden, you must be thinking of a donkey or a mule. We have heard stories of donkeys carrying loads for washermen and the creatures being ill-treated by their masters from childhood.
Therefore, we have always associated these two creatures with the quintessential beasts of burden.
However, while visiting an animal sanctuary, I was surprised to learn that several other creatures are used for carrying loads.
Animals that carry loads:
List of pack animals:
Camels have been used as ‘sumpter animal’ or a ‘beast of burden’ from the Middle Ages.
Imagine you need to carry a significant amount of load across the desert for trade in the early nineteenth century. Here your choice of travel would be on a camel’s back.
You must have seen paintings with ‘howdah’ or a canopy-like seating arrangement made on the camel’s back to make it easier for the merchants to travel.
Camel caravans were quite common in regions like North and West Africa and the arid regions of West Asia.
The ability of the camels to carry a significant amount of load has also led to animal cruelty.
Presently camels are used to carry loads only in certain parts of the world where no other modes of travel are available.
Donkeys have been used to carry loads for ages.
A donkey typically weighs around five hundred pounds, and it can carry a load up to one hundred and twenty-five pounds without injuring itself.
But as a farm animal, if a donkey is being used to carry loads, it is essential to consider several factors such as the maturity of the creature, its fitness, and health.
Sometimes donkeys are used on rugged terrain to carry loads as there is no other alternative.
Here you will have to check the creature’s hooves and ensure that they are well-trimmed before you can take the donkey on the hike.
Thus, even though donkeys can carry heavy loads, you need to ensure that the creature is healthy to bear the burden.
Elephants are often used as a beast of burden, especially in many parts of Asia.
The Asian timber industry still uses elephants to carry the heavy logs across its backs to the factories.
But despite its massive size, it is essential to be careful before using an elephant as a beast of burden.
The primary reason is that the elephant’s spine is not suited for weight-bearing. The structure of its spine makes it difficult for the creature to carry weight.
Moreover, elephants are tortured to keep them tame and forced to carry weight. This takes a physical and mental toll on the creature and amounts to animal cruelty.
For more than four thousand years, elephants have been used to carry loads, but they are not physically or mentally built for this work.
Our association with reindeer starts with childhood stories of Santa Claus coming on a carriage drawn by reindeer to deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve.
This is probably the first time that unknowingly, we started thinking of reindeer being able to carry weights.
Reindeer can pull a sleigh weighing up to one hundred and forty kilograms over frozen ground.
Reindeer, like camels, are pack animals which means you can ensure these creatures’ physical and mental health by keeping them together.
Raising reindeer is not expensive, and you can easily tame them. You can easily harness the reindeer to sled and pull heavy loads.
Buffalos, primarily water buffalos, are pack animals and are used to carry heavy loads. But you will find these creatures are usually associated with farming.
Hence, the loads that they carry will also be associated with farm produce.
For example, buffalos are often attached to carts carrying hay, paddy, vegetables, and similar items. This is a common sight in many Asian villages.
Similarly, you will often see water buffaloes being harnessed to plows used to till the land.
Smaller tracts of land or poorer farmers who cannot afford sophisticated farming machinery depend on these beasts of burden.
Buffaloes have powerful muscles, and they are capable of heavy work.
The heavy use of buffalos in farming has resulted in most governments introducing laws to prevent cruelty against these animals.
Oxen are used as draft animals, trained to pull carts or plow the land, however, the maximum uses of oxen are in farming.
You will find that oxen too are harnessed to plows like buffaloes, and they are used to till the land.
As oxen are much more docile than buffaloes, farmers find them easier to handle.
In many parts of Asia, oxen are also used to haul carts and wagons. Additionally, you will find that oxen can walk easily on soft and hard ground.
Their hooves are suited for easy movement, and it is not necessary to get all the hooves of an oxen shod.
Since oxen have powerful muscles like buffaloes, they can pull heavy loads. This often makes these creatures preferred over horses when bearing loads, especially on farms.
It is expected that horses can bear up to twenty percent of their weight.
Based on this calculation, horses are trained for equestrian purposes. But horses have also been used to carry loads.
In the past, but even today, horses are used as farm animals to dray carts and pull wagons.
Horses are also used to carry loads, especially in the mountainous region when no other mode of transport is available.
You must have seen pictures of horses carrying the additional loads for trekkers as they set off for a mountain climbing expedition.
Thus, horses are also used as pack animals, but the creature needs to be taken care of if you want it to be healthy enough to continue the journey or carry the weight on different occasions.
Animals that carry loads are camels, donkeys, elephants, reindeer, buffalos, oxen, and horses. Donkeys and camels are often associated as pack animals but in certain parts of the world, other pack animals listed above are used when no other modes of transport are available.