Santorini is often in the headlines for being a tourist paradise. However, a new report claims that the island’s donkeys — pressed into carrying tourists from cruise ships up to the town of Fira — are being mistreated.
Between the shore and Fira are 520 steep, cobbled steps cut into a winding 800-meter high hillside path. Along this gruelling track, dozens of donkeys carry tourist arrivals up to the picturesque town.
Now a report in the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper claims animal welfare activists are urging the donkey keepers to provide them with appropriate shade, rest and water for the demanding work.
The paper claims the donkeys make four or five return journeys a day during the height of the tourist season, often in temperatures of more than 30C (86F).
Animals were reportedly seen licking shadowy parts of nearby stone walls in an attempt to find moisture.
Reports of neglect, overwork and mistreatment have lingered for years. In 2013, the MyGreece travel blog urged visitors to Santorini not to pay the €5 ($6) charge to ride on the animals, claiming:
“Though the donkeys might look ‘cute,’ and the rides might appear to be a harmless and fun tourist attraction, travellers who use the mules as transportation actually contribute to animal abuse, according to animal welfare organizations and frequent visitors to the island who have personally witnessed handlers mistreating their donkeys.”
Although there is a cable car which can transport passengers up the face of the cliff, donkey owners often encourage tourists to make the journey is the ‘traditional’ way – on the back of one of their animals.
One passenger, who chose to walk the route instead, told the Mail: “We are shocked to see this happening. We didn’t think for a second about riding a donkey up steep steps, it is so unfair on them.”
A number of animal welfare groups exist on the island, including the Santorini Animal Welfare Association and Animal Action. The U.K.’s Donkey Sanctuary also works with local groups to improve conditions for the animals.
In March 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to transform the lives of horses, donkeys and mules across Europe.
Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare and Chair of Eurogroup for Animals’ Equine Working Group said at the time: “The welfare problems facing Europe’s equines are just that – European problems.
“Poor stabling conditions for horses are as likely to be found in Ireland as they are in Italy, overworked donkeys can be found in Santorini just as they can be found in Spain.”