Are mules or donkeys better adapted for Egyptian brick kiln work? (Until we can change the kilns)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Ahmed B. A. Ali, Mohamed Y. Matoock, Manal A. Fouad, Camie R. Heleski
Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
, , , , , , , ,

The working conditions of donkeys and mules in the Egyptian brick kilns are often very challenging. Common problems for these equids include the following: overloading, overworking, heat stress, harness lesions, poor body condition scores (BCSs), and poor treatment by handlers. However, mechanization of the Egyptian brick kilns is not yet realistic without entirely renovating all kilns for additional space requirements, which would be cost-prohibitive at this time. In the brick kilns in the Helwan area (approximately 185 kilns, supplying all bricks for the cities of Cairo and Giza), more than 2,000 donkeys and 400 mules move ∼200 million bricks per month, year round. From July 2012 to December 2013, the first author assessed 1,140 donkeys and 250 mules to answer the question of whether donkeys or mules are better suited for brick kiln work. Health parameters were assessed (e.g., pulse and respiratory rate, rectal temperature, mucous membranes, skin tent test, and capillary refill time); body lesions and BCSs were assessed on a 5-point scale from 1 (poor) to 5 (obese). Several behavior parameters (e.g., animal demeanor and human-animal interaction) were also assessed. The data were analyzed using SPSS 17.1. There were (mean ± standard error) 32.6% ± 0.99% of kiln mules and 53.5% ± 0.98% of kiln donkeys scoring a BCS ≤2 (P < 0.001). Heat stress and fever indicators were separated from each other for each measure and then respective scores were aggregated. Again, mules showed more favorable scores with the average aggregate heat stress score of mules being 26.8 ± 0.15 and of donkeys being 48.3 ± 0.25 (P < 0.001). Mules also showed fewer overwork-type body lesions (19.1 ± 0.45) than donkeys (32.9 ± 0.74; P < 0.001). When all health parameters were considered, it was apparent that mules are faring better than donkeys in the brick kiln environment. Should the kiln owners decide to replace donkeys with mules, one problem will need to be addressed: Mules more frequently showed aggressive behaviors and avoidance behaviors to unfamiliar handlers (19.2% ± 0.17% aggressive mules versus 3.0% ± 0.02% aggressive donkeys; P < 0.001). Educational programs to assist with proper training and handling of mules should be implemented and then assessed for outcomes.


Back to Resources