The Role of Donkeys in Karachi’s Waste Management System

In many low- and middle-income countries equids play a critical role in supporting people’s livelihoods. In Karachi, Pakistan, donkey carts are frequently used to transport building materials, commercial produce and household waste. As with all major cities in Pakistan, the current methods for solid waste management in the city are inadequate, resulting in significant difficulties for its citizens. Approximately only 60% of solid waste is collected, resulting in uncollected rubbish gathering in the streets. The role that donkeys play in the city’s waste management system is rarely recognised by policymakers and has received little attention to date.

This study examines the role and welfare of cart donkeys used in the waste management system in Karachi, aiming to understand the challenges that communities face and help develop appropriate interventions at a community level.

During 2016, our researchers conducted interviews with 200 donkey owners who use their animals for waste collection and also administered surveys with 50 households who had their waste collected by cart donkeys. Interviews were conducted with town committee members and animal healthcare professionals. The welfare of 204 donkeys was assessed using the Standardised Equine-Based Welfare Assessment Tool (SEBWAT).

Key findings

  • Collection of waste was the primary source of income for 89% of donkey owners interviewed.
  • Several household members, including men, women and children, are involved in waste collection. 62% of these were reported to be under 18 years of age.
  • During interviews with donkey cart customers the majority reported that there would be a huge garbage build-up if donkey carts were not available.
  • The welfare of donkeys used in waste collection was reported to be poor, with 78%

suffering from muzzle mutilations. Mutilations are often performed in working equids for cultural, identification, husbandry or perceived therapeutic reasons.

  • A high percentage of donkeys (66.7%) were suffering from superficial knee lesions, this may have been caused by overloading and/or marshy and slippery streets.



Our hope is that this project encourages future research into this neglected area. We recommend that a necessary first step is for the local government to recognise the critical role that donkey cart owners play in the waste management system in Karachi. This research has been presented and well-received at several international conferences, including the third Global Summit on Waste Management and Recycling held in Berlin in December 2019. In addition, in April 2019 our team in Pakistan used findings from the project to launch a policy brief, with representatives from civil society organisations, INGOs, local government and funders attending the launch event.


Shah, S. Z. A., Nawaz, Z., Nawaz, S., Carder, G., Ali, M., Soomro, N., & Compston, P. C. (2019). The role and welfare of cart donkeys used in waste management in Karachi, Pakistan. Animals, 9 (4), 159.