Lonely Planet Writer

Santorini aims to protect famous donkeys from overwork

In Santorini a new campaign aims to discourage holidaymakers from using donkey taxis after it was revealed that the over-worked animals are suffering from exhaustion, spinal injuries and saddle sores.

Donkeys in Santorini are paying the price for the rise in visitor numbers. Image by The Donkey Sanctuary

There’s a common practice in Santorini of selling donkey rides to tourists along the island’s many steep cliffsides. It’s a practice that stretches back generations but now holidaymakers are being urged to think twice before riding donkeys and mules after some of the animals were found to have spinal injuries and saddle sores. With the rise of visitor numbers, particularly from cruise ships, coupled with the rise of obesity, 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.

More donkeys than ever before are suffering from exhaustion, saddle sores and spinal injuries. Image by The Donkey Sanctuary

In a bid to improve conditions for the animals, the Donkey Sanctuary, a UK-based charity, has launched a new campaign called In Their Hooves, alongside Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), whose members ferry as many as 17,000 passengers onto the island every day during summer. It aims to set out policies that will improve the welfare of donkeys and mules, while safeguarding the livelihoods of their owners and traditional Greek culture.

Central to the campaign is a video which asks tourists to consider if working donkeys and mules are being given sufficient basic care, such as fresh water and shelter from the sun, before making an informed decision about riding them. Holidaymakers are also encouraged to consider if animals are being treated humanely by their owners or being forced to carry inappropriate loads – either tourists or luggage.

Donkeys have to carry tourists and luggage up steep climbs in the sweltering heat. Image by Angelos Tzortzinis/picture alliance via Getty

“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 statement. “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.”