Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bogotá's Zorreros: Trotting Off Into History?

A horse cart trots thru Bogotá's Santa Fe neighborhood on a recent afternoon.
Bogotá's horsecarts, long a surprising sight on the capital's streets, were supposed to be gone by now. But hundreds or more remain, trotting about, vending things or carrying loads to dispose of or recycle.

Animal rights activists led the campaign to ban the carts, which were supposed to be gone by Oct. 1. By early August only about 1,000 of the 4,000 or so horses had been turned in. And a brief visit a poor, industrial neighborhood such as Los Martyres shows that many zorreros are still holding out.

The cart drivers, known as zorreros, are supposed to turn in their horses in return for a compensation intended to allow them to buy a small truck or open a small business. But many of the zorreros, who are overhwhelmingly uneducated and unsophisticated, may not be able to handle that wealth.

"We believe that many of the horsecart people won't have those trucks after a few weeks," a leader of Bogotá's recyclers told me.

The payments are so generous that Bogotá authorities even suspect that people from outside the city have brought in horses to trade for the compensation.

A horsecart and bike tourists near Bogotá's Paloquemao market.
It certainly is true that many of the cart drivers abuse, underfed and overwork their animals. In fact, many of the horses turned in to the city suffer from intestinal parasites and other ills which require veterinary attention. (Animal welfare groups are recruiting adoptive families for the animal retirees.) But other horsecart drivers value and love their animals.

And those cart drivers, who often have few skills, will struggle to survive without those animals. One leader of Bogotá's recyclers recently said that some have been forced into prostitution to feed their families.

And, for me, the horsecarts give Bogotá a different atmosphere, saying 'this isn't just another big city.'

Their disappearance - if it happens - will remove a piece of Bogotá's uniqueness and character.

And, does Bogotá really need more gas guzzling, polluting vehicles?

A horsecart amidst motor traffic. 
A group of mares, some of them retired zorrero horses, are rehabilitated on the campus of the National University while awaiting adoption.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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