Greece has banned fat tourists from riding on donkeys after campaigners said the animals were being left with spinal injuries. The move comes after shocking images emerged of donkeys climbing the narrow steps of the Greek island of Santorini holding obese holidaymakers. Lawmakers in Greece have since pledged to do more to help the animals.
The country’s Ministry of Rural Development and Food has published a new set of regulations regarding donkeys’ wellbeing after receiving multiple complaints following media coverage in July. These state donkeys giving tourists rides in Santorini should not carry any loads heavier than 100kg, or one fifth of their weight. It follows animal activists on the island claiming donkeys were being forced to carry ever-heavier loads while they work long hours, seven days a week without shelter, rest and water – leaving them with spinal injuries and open wounds from ill-fitting saddles.
The bulletin states: ‘The owners of working equidae should ensure that the animals’ level of health is high. There should also be disinfection materials in their living quarters and workstations. ‘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 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. The load cannot exceed the weight of 100kg, or one fifth of their body weight.’
Santorini is known for its hilly terrain and donkeys have traditionally been used to transport people over the famously stepped areas which vehicles cannot access, such as in capital Fira. In June, charities there claimed the explosion of fat tourists meant locals who are keen to get the most out of their animals were being forced to crossbreed the animals to create mules, which are bigger and taller and can carry heavier loads with more stamina. Elisavet Chatzi, 45, a volunteer from Athens who participated in peaceful protest in Santorini over donkeys’ treatment there earlier this year, said: ‘It’s a very big step, I think all our hard work has paid off.
The situation in San
torini has been going on for many years and it cannot be resolved in one day. ‘We have won our fight because of the international media attention on the topic. No one could ever believe that new regulations would be set. ‘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..’
PETA has also started a petition called ‘Donkeys on Santorini Abused and Used as Taxis: Please Help Them!’ But other campaigners allege that despite the reminder, nothing has changed on the island and there is still a long way to go. Maria Skourta, 42, the leader of the Athens branch of Direct Action Everywhere, claims: “We were content with the bulletin because the purpose of our organisation is to bring matters to light and initiate conversation. ‘But our goal is not to improve the lives of slaves, is to free them entirely. [While this means they will stop carrying fat tourists], the donkeys are still forced to carry cement, appliances, and all sorts of heavy weights.’