Santorini officials announced on Saturday that they were preparing to take action to protect the popular island’s donkeys which are used to transport tourists up the steep incline to Fira after being slammed by animal welfare groups for the decades-long practice.
The decision to “respect the rights and well-being of donkeys” comes after Santorini Mayor Nikos Zorzos met with local animal rights groups and donkey owners over the treatment of the animals.
Animal welfare groups are calling on authorities to take immediate action prompted by posts on social media depicting overweight travelers being carried up the steep Santorini cliff by small donkeys.
Animal rights activists argue that rising obesity rates as well as increasing numbers of tourists arriving to the Cycladic island every day are leading to heavier loads and higher demands from the animals putting them at risk.
Santorini has repeatedly come into the international spotlight for its lacking animal welfare. The island has signed an international code of practice for working equines but there is no appointed body to enforce the regulations.
Municipal officials said the animal owners had agreed on Saturday to a set of measures that included weight restriction, the microchipping of all animals, regular veterinary support, ensuring rest periods, keeping the animals in the shade, providing plenty of water and food as well as the creation of a list of violating donkey owners so that the necessary penalties are imposed.
Donkeys and mules were used in remote areas of Greece decades ago as the only means of transportation in rugged terrains. The practice continues today on the islands of Santorini and Hydra, where hundreds of tourists line up for a ride.
“The Donkey Sanctuary does not actively promote the use of donkeys and mules in any form of tourism,” a spokesperson for the UK-based Donkey Sanctuary told the MailOnline, adding that it has “expressed concerns about the current working conditions and practices of many of the donkeys and mules working on the island of Santorini, with continued challenges around enforcement of regulations and issues such as lack of shelter from the sun, lack of water, excessive working hours and overloading.”