A beast of burden is a domesticated animal which has been trained to carry people or goods. Beasts of burden tend to be on the large scale of domesticated animals, so that they can carry heavy loads, with the exception to this rule being the dog, an animal which has been widely used as a beast of burden in the arctic regions of the world. The use of domesticated animals to carry goods and people is ancient, with some researchers suggesting that it may actually pre-date agriculture, since dogs were domesticated by hunting and gathering societies.
Different animals are used around the world as beasts of burden. Some common examples are: elephants, donkeys, horses, yaks, oxen, mules, yaks, buffaloes, camels, llamas, reindeer, and water buffalo. Most modern beasts of burden are bred on farms, and some are the result of centuries of breeding for strength and temperament, although some, like Asian elephants, are trapped in the wild and trained. In some cases, years of breeding has resulted in a very refined animal which differs radically from its wild counterparts.
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Handlers can use a beast of burden in a variety of ways. Some animals are trained to be ridden by humans, or to pull a conveyance such as a sled, cart, or sledge which may be loaded with cargo or people. Other beasts of burden are trained as pack animals, to carry loads which are strapped to their bodies. Some have special skills, like elephants, who assist at logging operations by using their trunks to manipulate timber.
Working animals have been displaced in some regions by mechanized transport, but in other areas, they are an important part of society. Much of the developing world relies heavily on beasts of burden for transport, and on working animals for tasks like plowing. Historically, working animals were critical to moving goods across land masses, and merchants traveled in huge caravans with hundreds of animals to bring materials for trade with other nations.
A beast of burden may come to be viewed as an important member of the family, but these animals are not pets. Like other working animals, beasts of burden should not be interfered with when they are working or in harness, unless their handlers specify that it is appropriate to approach or pat the animal. The heavy loads shouldered by many working animals require their full attention and concentration, and they could be frightened or injured by an approaching stranger, even one with innocent intentions.