The sun peeks over the horizon of the medieval Turkish city of Mardin as a herd of cream-coloured donkeys begins its day job collecting rubbish before relaxing to classical music in the evenings.
Guided by city workers, the animals carry waste bags, winding through the narrow alleys of the city, built on a cliff overlooking what was once Mesopotamia, 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Syria.
“We have been using them to clean the city for centuries. They are the only ones who can access these narrow streets,” says Kadri Toparli who works for the Mardin old town cleaning team.
“Otherwise, it would be impossible to do this work.”
With names like Gaddar (Cruel), Cefo (Indulgent) and Bozo (Pale), reflecting their personalities and features, the 40 or so donkeys “have the status of municipal employees,” Toparli explains.
“They work like us, eight hours a day, with a break after four hours in the middle of the day.”
In the evenings, as they wind down from a long day that involves climbing at least 150 steps, the donkeys relax to music while vets care for them in their stables.
“We take care of them. Every evening, we play classical music or traditional melodies for two hours,” Toparli says.
“We see that they are happier when we play a piece of Beethoven,” he quips.
At the start of the 20th century, when Mardin had just 20,000 people, the donkeys would carry the ashes produced from wood and coal heaters.
Today, the old town alone has 60,000 residents, generating nearly 10 tonnes of waste every day.
“We have mini-vehicles which we call ‘garbage taxis’. We use them as well, but they are not as efficient,” says Abdulkadir Tutasi, the mayor of the old town.
Efforts to phase out the reliance on donkeys fits in with the growing sensitivity shown to animal welfare in Turkish society in recent years.
To ward off potential criticism, Mardin’s old town officials say they are working with animal rights organisations to monitor the donkeys’ working conditions.
Toparli goes to great lengths to treat his donkeys with care and respect.
“They are very intelligent animals. They know their zone by heart,” he says. “Often, we don’t need to guide them back to their stables.”