Animal Groups Say Overweight Tourists Harming Santorini’s Donkeys
Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw
The practice of selling donkey rides to visitors in Santorini is attracting growing criticism from animal welfare groups, who argue that the creatures are being forced to carry excessive numbers of increasingly overweight tourists from the UK, the U.S. and Russia.
Coming in for particular fire is the busy route up the cliffs of the west coast - from the harbour at sea level to the capital Fira, which sits some 400 metres above the water, on a ridge.
The ascent is popular with cruise pax. But while many choose to walk the zig-zagging trail which takes about half an hour, or board the cable car that makes the leap in two minutes -- others pick the "authentic" option of a donkey ride to the top.
This, according to opponents of the "service", leaves the animals struggling with a burden far heavier than they have the strength to cope with, causing spinal injuries and stress.
Animal protection group The Donkey Sanctuary has been especially vocal in its condemnation, saying in a statement that "we were dismayed by the conditions we witnessed" on a recent visit to Santorini.
"With the holiday season coming into full swing," the statement adds, "exhausted donkeys and mules are spending long days in the scorching sun, carrying tourists or heavy and harmful rubbish loads, with little to no water, food or shade."
This sense of worry is echoed by Facebook group Help The Santorini Donkeys, which is calling for change on the island.
"Some of the men who keep the donkeys as their livelihood don’t care about the amount of weight they put on the animals," a spokesperson for the group told the Evening Standard.
"The weight put on an animal should be no more than 20% of [its own] weight. This means they should be carrying maximum loads of eight stone (112 pounds).
A petition titled "Stop Animal Abuse of Donkeys and Horses in Santorini" was uploaded to the protest website change.org last summer and has now attracted over 70,000 signatures.
It claims that "donkeys are used as cruel transportation for people who want the 'real Greek' experience," and that the animals are "forced to stand around in the sun in their own faeces at the side of the path."
Tiny Santorini is just 35 square miles but it receives some two million tourists each year.