Greece has banned “overweight” tourists from riding donkeys on the popular island of Santorini, after campaigners complained the animals were suffering from spinal injuries and open wounds.
The country’s Ministry of Rural Development and Food has published a new set of regulations regarding the wellbeing of donkeys. These include that donkeys giving tourists rides in Santorini should not carry any loads heavier than 100 kilograms (220 pounds), or one-fifth of their weight.
The animals “should not be loaded with a weight excessive in size, age or physical condition,” the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food has instructed, according to CNN.
Visitors to Greece ride the donkeys as a tourist attraction and as a practical way to get up the island’s steep slopes and see the sights.
Activists have fought against the practice, saying that letting the donkeys carry heavy tourists amounts to animal cruelty. An online petition claimed the donkeys were “forced to stand around in the sun in their own feces” and were whipped by handlers to speed up while carrying tourists “too lazy to just walk or take a cable car.”
Since its creation over a year ago, the petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures.
A spokesman for the charity, Help the Santorini Donkeys, told the Mirror “They’re having to resort to using cross-bred mules, as the donkeys just aren’t strong enough. Obese and overweight tourists combined with the lack of shade and water, heat and cobbled steps is what’s causing such a problem.”
The Donkey Sanctuary, a British charity that works to prevent cruel treatment toward the animals, launched a campaign called #DonkeyDefender to combat what they said was ill-treatment at the hands of muleteers.
⚡️ It's time to stand up for the donkeys and mules of Santorini.
— The Donkey Sanctuary (@DonkeySanctuary) June 22, 2018
“We recently visited the island of Santorini to assess the conditions of these hardworking animals. Despite our long-standing efforts, we were dismayed by the conditions we witnessed,” the organization’s website said.
Members of the charity met with Greek government officials in August to discuss the welfare of the animals.
“With the holiday season coming into full swing, 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. With this disappointing evidence, now is the time to increase our efforts to support the needs of these diligent donkeys and mules.”
Now lawmakers in Greece have responded by issuing the new guidelines.
“Under no circumstances should be used animals unfit for work i.e., ill animal, injured, animals in an advanced pregnancy as well as animals with poor maintenance of hooves,” the bulletin states, according to the Mirror.
“The animals should be given appropriate and adequate food and fresh drinking water daily, into containers which cannot be contaminated and are cleaned at least once a day. Working equines should not be loaded with excessive weight for their size, age or physical condition.”
Elisavet Chatzi, a volunteer who earlier this year participated in a protest in Santorini over donkeys’ treatment hailed the move as “a very big step” and added, “all our hard work has paid off.”
“The next day after the bulletin was released, I was told a tourist had been carried up the hill by three different donkeys, so as not to exhaust them,” she said, according to the Mirror.
Not all activists believe the new guidelines will effectively prevent animal suffering.
A representative of animal rights group PETA told CNN the move is a “throwaway” gesture that “won’t prevent the daily suffering that these donkeys endure.”
“Donkeys can still be forced to carry a person weighing 15 stone 10 pounds (220 pounds) up more than 500 steep steps four to five times a day,” said Mimi Bekhechi, PETA UK’s director of international programs.
Santorini, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece, has struggled to deal with swelling numbers of visitors and the associated strain on ill-adapted infrastructure.
Officials have imposed a daily tourist cap on cruise passengers to the island in an attempt to restrict the number of visitors.
Some argue that for Greece, with its recent brush with bankruptcy, tourism is a crucial financial lifeline and its associated problems are a necessary evil.