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Tourists heading to Santorini, one of Greece’s most popular islands, have been urged to climb stairs instead of riding donkeys as increasing numbers of donkeys are suffering from exhaustion and spinal issues.

Activists have launched a campaign to make visitors think twice before they hop on, with

British charity The Donkey Sanctuary launching the “In Their Hooves” campaign as a way of improving public awareness of the animals’ health.

Last summer, over 108,000 people signed an online petition deploring what it described as the “mindless and unnecessary torture [of equines] used as cruel transportation for people who want the ‘real Greek’ experience”.

The outcry prompted the Greek government to enact legislation making it illegal to burden animals with “any load exceeding 100kg, or one-fifth of [their] body weight.” Although holidaymakers weren’t mentioned specifically, the regulation was interpreted as a ban on owners allowing overweight tourists to mount the creatures.

But animal welfare campaigners say the buck should not only stop with muleteers. Visitors, they argue, should also make informed decisions.

Visitors are now asked to consider whether the animals have adequate water and shelter, if the owner treats them respectfully or if they have any signs of injury, and whether they are expected to carry an acceptable weight.

Put yourself in their hooves: that is the message holidaymakers will be asked to consider before deciding to ascend the 600 steps that zigzag up the cliffs of Santorini on the back of a donkey.

The initiative, which includes a campaign video, is the result of a partnership between The Donkey Sanctuary and local authorities in Santorini.

“We are excited to launch the In Their Hooves video and we hope visitors to Santorini are able to make informed decisions about the welfare of working equines they will see there,” Barbara Massa, The Donkey Sanctuary’s regional director for Europe, said in a press release.

“We will continue to work with the municipality, providing training to equine health service providers and also the animal owners, all of whom are critical to improving the working conditions and practices on the island.”

Activists are now working with the cruise-line industry to inform those travelling to Santorini of the stress placed on the mules when they’re forced to carry human cargo.

“The campaign is about to start,” the volcanic island’s mayor Nikos Zorzos told media.

“Representatives from the cruise liner association were here in my office this week promising to raise awareness [of the problem] and from our side, we’ll be distributing information leaflets. Our mules and donkeys are part of our tradition. Younger owners, especially, have understood that they need to be looked after.”

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