A pack animal, also known as a sumpter animal or beast of burden, is an individual or type of working animal used by humans as means of transporting materials by attaching them so their weight bears on the animal's back, in contrast to draft animals which pull loads but do not carry them.
Pack versus draft
The term pack animal is traditionally used in contrast to draft animal, which is a working animal that typically pulls a load behind itself (such as a plow, a cart, a sled or a heavy log) rather than carrying cargo directly on its back. For instance, sled dogs pull loads but do not normally carry them, while working elephants have been used for centuries to haul logs out of forests.
Traditional pack animals include ungulates such as camels, the domestic yak, reindeer, goats, water buffaloes and llama, and domesticated members of the horse family including horses, donkeys, and mules. Occasionally, dogs can be used to carry small loads.
Hauling of goods in wagons with horses and oxen gradually displaced the use of packhorses, which had been important until the Middle Ages, by the sixteenth century.
While traditional usage of pack animals by nomadic tribespeople is declining, a new market is growing in the tourist expeditions industry in regions such as the High Atlas mountains of Morocco, allowing visitors the comfort of backpacking with animals. The use of pack animals "is considered a valid means of viewing and experiencing" some National Parks in America, subject to guidelines and closed areas.
In the 21st century, special forces have received guidance on the use of horses, mules, llamas, camels, dogs, and elephants as pack animals.
Load carrying capacity
Yaks are loaded differently according to region. In Sichuan, 165 pounds (75 kg) is carried for 30 km in 6 hours. In Qinghai, at 4100 m altitude, packs of up to 660 pounds (300 kg) are routinely carried, while up to 860 pounds (390 kg) is carried by the heaviest steers for short periods.
Loads for equids are disputed. The US Army specifies a maximum of 20 percent of body weight for mules walking up to 20 miles a day in mountains, giving a load of up to about 200 pounds (91 kg). However an 1867 text mentioned a load of up to 800 pounds (360 kg). In India, the prevention of cruelty rules (1965) limit mules to 440 pounds (200 kg) and ponies to 154 pounds (70 kg).
Pack animals by region
- Arctic - reindeer, sled dog
- Central Africa and South Africa - ox, mule, donkey
- Central Asia - Bactrian camel, yak, mule, donkey
- Eurasia - donkey, ox, horse, mule
- North America - horse, mule, donkey, goat
- North Africa and Middle East - dromedary camel, horse, donkey, mule, ox
- Oceania - donkey, horse, dromedary camel, mule, ox
- South America - llama, donkey, mule
- South and Southeast Asia - water buffalo, yak, Asian elephant
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