The Greek island of Santorini is one of the most picturesque and popular tourist destinations in the world, with visitors falling in love with its rugged cliffs and pebbled beaches.
During their time there, many tourists opt to travel up the volcanic isle’s famously steep steps using a traditional, yet increasingly controversial, means of transport: riding on the back of a donkey.
Many see this as an authentically Greek part of their experience, never considering the damage they could be inflicting upon the health of the donkeys.
Demand for Santorini donkey rides has risen in recent years, reports The Guardian, with a marked increase in tourists heading to the island from cruise ships.
This over-tourism has put pressure on the Santorini donkeys, leading them to suffer from health problems such as spinal injuries, saddle sores, and exhaustion.
A campaign has now been launched by animal welfare and rescue charity, The Donkey Sanctuary – entitled ‘In Their Hooves’ – which encourages tourists to consider the welfare of these donkeys.
A PR officer at The Donkey Sanctuary stated:
Our In Their Hooves campaign aims to encourage tourists to stop and think before using donkey taxis to climb the steep steps at Fira port,
It suggests holidaymakers consider whether donkeys and mules are being treated humanely, have enough shade and water, as well as whether loads they are being asked to carry are suitable.
If not, other options, such as walking or taking a cable car, might be a more responsible mode of transport.
Following our meeting with the mayor of #Santorini, we're delighted to see that the steps have been significantly improved. 🙌
We’re looking forward to seeing the repaired shelters that will give donkeys the shade, rest and water they need. 👍 pic.twitter.com/1LzRrNb19W
— The Donkey Sanctuary (@DonkeySanctuary) March 27, 2019
In October, Santorini banned those weighing over 220 pounds – or one-fifth of the donkey’s weight – from riding them. As of this year, Santorini has capped cruise ship arrivals at 8,000 travelers.
Santorini mayor, Nikos Zorzos, told The Guardian:
The campaign is about to start. 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 they need to be looked after.
Greek island of #Santorini: GET OFF THE DONKEY!
Walk your big, lazy self up the hill or don't go up it at all. Some are lame, saddle sores galore. pic.twitter.com/wTmhtSBKFy
— Ingrid Newkirk (@IngridNewkirk) August 6, 2018
There are plenty of ways to enjoy the unique beauty and culture of Santorini without risking the health and well-being of these sweet, hardworking creatures.
It’s good to see steps being taken to protect these iconic donkeys, with tourists being encouraged to be mindful and respectful when pursuing ‘authentic’ experiences.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.