Published on: Amended:
Mardin (Turkey) (AFP) – The sun rises over the skyline of the medieval Turkish town of Mardin as a herd of cream-colored donkeys start their day collecting trash before relaxing to classical music in the evening.
Guided by city workers, the animals carry bags of trash, meandering through the city’s narrow lanes, built on a bluff overlooking what was once Mesopotamia, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Syria.
âWe have used them to clean the city for centuries. They are the only ones who can access these narrow streets â, explains Kadri Toparli, who works for the cleaning team in the old town of Mardin.
âOtherwise, it would be impossible to do this job.
With names like Gaddar (Cruel), Cefo (Indulgent) and Bozo (Pale), reflecting their personalities and their features, the forty donkeys “have the status of municipal employees,” Toparli explains.
“They work like us, eight hours a day, with a break after four hours in the middle of the day.”
In the evening, as they retreat from a long day that involves climbing at least 150 steps, the donkeys relax to the sound of music while the vets tend to them in their stables.
âWe take care of them. Every evening we play classical music or traditional melodies for two hours, âToparli explains.
“We see that they are happier when we play a piece by Beethoven,” he quipped.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when Mardin had only 20,000 inhabitants, donkeys carried the ashes produced by wood and coal stoves.
Today, the old town alone has 60,000 inhabitants, generating nearly 10 tonnes of waste every day.
“We have mini-vehicles which we call ‘garbage taxis’. We use them too, but they are not as efficient,” said Abdulkadir Tutasi, the mayor of the old town.
Efforts to phase out reliance on donkeys are part of the growing awareness of animal welfare in Turkish society in recent years.
In January 2020, Istanbul banned horse-drawn carriages from the Princes’ Islands, a rustic archipelago at the entrance to the Bosporus popular with weekend visitors.
The cars, once emblematic of the nine rolling islands, have been replaced by electric vehicles.
To avoid potential criticism, officials in Mardin’s Old Town said they were working with animal rights organizations to monitor the working conditions of donkeys.
Toparli goes to great lengths to treat his donkeys with care and respect.
âThey are very intelligent animals. They know their area by heart,â he says. “Often we don’t need to guide them to their stables.”
Recruited at the age of six, donkeys are removed with great fanfare when they reach the age of 14 or 15.
There is an official ceremony, with a plate of watermelon offered to the donkey at retirement age in place of a cake, which is considered too unhealthy.
They spend their golden years at a local animal shelter, enjoying a well-deserved rest.
According to the mayor, Mardin has served as a model for European cities, especially those in France and Italy, which have used donkeys for municipal services in areas that are difficult to reach by car.
âPlus, it’s ecological,â says Tutasi.
“Donkeys do not pollute.”
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