Around the world working animals are making the difference between poverty and prosperity for many people. These animals are a vital part of the economy of poor nations.
I am a supporter of SPANA, a charity founded in London in 1923 by Kate Hosali and her daughter Nina, after they witnessed the suffering of animals on their travels through North Africa. SPANA provides free vetinerary service to thousands of working animals around the world, along with an education program for their owners.
So I was horrified to learn in an article published in BBC magazine that 25 mules were murdered in Turkey on its border with Iraq. The Turkish Army decided to focus on smugglers bringing in unlicensed cigarettes, a trade that costs the Turkish economy $3 billion every year. Unfortunately, the mules were a by-product of this initiative.
Local smugglers decided that the journey to Iraq was too dangerous. Then they launched an ambitious plan. They realized that their mules were smart enough to make the 15-mile trip to the border and back unaccompanied. All that needed to be done was to send the mules on their way with empty saddlebags that would come back loaded with contraband.
(Note that human beings pressed into service to carry smuggled goods have come to be known as "mules," as well.)
On March 23, a group of men in the small village of Uludere taking a tea break suddenly heard gunshots. They ran to save the mules, but it was too late. The poor creatures, who had no knowledge of what they were doing, had been sprayed with bullets from automatic weapons and were dead.
These attacks on the mules by the Turkish Army have continued. The practice is inhumane and many believe this has nothing to do with smuggling. The Turkish Army wants to terrorize the community.
Local villagers see these mules as more than just a means of transport. The animals have names and their lineage is known to everyone. Mules are indispensible to their way of life and are worth between $4,000 and $10,000 each - as much as a good used car.
Whatever one feels about smuggling, there is no excuse for killing these mules. They were mere innocents in a trade that flourishes near borders worldwide.
The mules could have simply been rounded up and taken away by the Turkish government. Instead, authorities chose to slaughter them. We would never known about this practice if a journalist from the BBC had not traveled to the region and witnessed the carnage.
Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated." And these cruel incidents cast a dark shadow on Turkey.
We must send a message to Turkey, and one way is by refusing to visit this country that puts itself forth as a wonderful tourism destination. Because of the way these poor mules were treated, people who care about animals should find another place to spend their tourism dollars