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Pack animal facts for kids

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Pack Horse 2
Horse packing with traditional Australian pack saddle

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.

Traditional pack animals are diverse including camels, goats, yaks, reindeer, water buffaloes, and llamas as well as the more familiar pack animals like dogs, horses, donkeys, and mules.

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.


Hortus Deliciarum 40-3m
Medieval pack horse and donkey in Hortus Deliciarum, Europe, 12th century, when packing was a major means of transport of goods
Marines train resupply techniques with pack animals 140831-M-ED261-010
US Marines training in resupply with pack mules. Bridgeport, California, 2014

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.

Pack animals may be fitted with pack saddles and may also carry saddlebags.

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

The maximum load for a camel is roughly 300 kg.

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.

Llamas can carry roughly a quarter of their body weight, so an adult male of 440 pounds (200 kg) can carry some 110 pounds (50 kg).

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).

Reindeer can carry up to 40 kg for a prolonged period in mountains.

Pack animals by region

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