Donkeys on the Greek island of Santorini are being badly injured by being forced to carry overweight tourists, according to animal charities.
Locals have even had to start breeding their donkeys with stronger mules so it’s easier for them to carry the heavier holidaymakers.
In the busy holiday season, between May and October, up to five cruise ships a day can bring 1,200 tourists to the picturesque island.
Known for its hills and steep paths, donkeys have become a feature of Santorini by helping transport people to areas vehicles can’t reach.
However, with obesity on the rise, animal rights activists are claiming the animals are being forced to carry heavier loads than ever, on top of already working seven days a week without shelter, rest or water. This leaves them with spinal injuries and wounds from ill-fitting saddles.
The animal charities have also said that locals have had to cross-breed their donkeys with mules, which are bigger and stronger, in order for them to be able to carry heavier loads.
A spokesperson for the Help the Santorini Donkeys charity said:
It’s recommended that animals should carry no more than 20 per cent of their own body weight.
The obese and overweight tourists, combined with the lack of shade and water as well as the sheer heat and 568 cobbled steps, is what is causing such a problem.
There should be a weight restriction. With donkeys it is should be no more than eight stone, but how would that be imposed and who would be there to make sure that happened?
Now they’re having to resort to using cross-bred mules, because the donkeys just aren’t strong enough.
Christina Kaloudi, 42, set up the Santorini Animal Welfare Association after she moved to Santorini 10 years ago.
She said in the last 10 years, she has seen the number of overweight tourists arriving from places like America, Russia and the UK has trebled, as the Daily Mail reports.
The holiday season on islands is now a lot longer than it used to be, meaning that the donkeys are pretty much in work the whole year round.
If they are not transporting tourists up the steps they are moving building materials or transporting heavy bags of rubbish.
There are some good owners out there that follow the code but generally donkeys are worked into the ground and then disposed of when their working lives are over.
They are made to work in terrible conditions without adequate water, shelter or rest and then I find them tied outside my shelter, barely alive.
Despite an international code of practice for working equines being signed by officials on the island, alongside the UK donkey sanctuary, many owners do not follow the guidelines as they are rarely enforced.
Donkeys are very resilient animals and will keep going for as long as they can, so when they come to me in this state, I have the utmost respect for them.
We don’t want to stop the locals making a living or using donkeys on the steps but to look after them in a fair and humane way.
If you want to donate to the Donkey Sanctuary UK or sponsor a donkey, you can do so here.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.