A pack animal is an animal that has been trained to carry equipment, food, or other items on its back for transportation purposes. Frequently, the type of pack animal used is reliant on the native species of an area. Most often, working animals are from the horse, or equine, and cow, or bovine, families. In harsher areas, species of camels may be used to transport people and goods. By using beasts of burden that are indigenous to the area, handlers are assured of a constant supply of animals that are best suited to the environment.
Members of the bovine family are often used as pack animals in agriculture settings. Besides providing milk and meat, bovines are well suited for transportation. These animals are large and sturdy and have a slow but steady walking pace. As a result, the broad backs of these animals can often carry hundreds of pounds for long periods without overly taxing the cows.
In the colder areas of Asia, for example, tame long-haired yaks are often used for transportation. In the warmer and wetter areas of Asia, domesticated water buffaloes are used not only to plow rice patties but to transport the crop to buyers. The common ox, cousin to the water buffalo, is used similarly in many areas of the world.
In the arid areas of north Africa and west Asia, species of camels that are native to the terrains are domesticated and used to carry loads. Traditionally, the nomadic people of these areas used the camel as a pack animal to carry supplies between living areas. Merchants and farmers of the area quickly adopted the practice.
The llama, a small, hairy camel species native to the Andes mountains in South America, is a popular pack animal for hikers worldwide. These animals are very adaptable and do particularly well in cold or dry areas. In comparison to other animals used for transportation, llamas eat very little and thus produce less waste. In addition, they are known as calm and affectionate companions.
Both horses and mules are used frequently as beasts of burden. Of the equines, the donkey has the longest history as a pack animal. Records, including biblical references, note the use of the ass as a beast of burden as early as 4000 BCE. These animals are sturdy, resistant to heat, and easily domesticated. Donkeys are also very observant and, as such, were frequently used by parties on the Oregon Trail both as transportation and watch animals.