Santorini is one of the most beautiful islands of Greece – ridiculously expensive and packed with tourists during the summer, the local businesses are trying to make the most of the touristic season.
The donkey ride is of the islands dirty little secrets and it’s a practice that has been going on for decades. Every day, the donkeys of Santorini will make four or five return journeys up 520 wide, cobbled steps. An idyllic ride for tourists, a torture for the animals.
The Santorini donkeys work exhausting eight to ten hour shifts, in temperatures rising up to 40C, under the brutal Greek sun, with their coats matted with sweat and some of them stop to lick the stone walls that lie in shadow for vital moisture. Most of them are not given water or food while they work, because those picturesque cobbled steps need to remain urine and feces free…
In May, animal welfare workers visited the Greek island to plead for better conditions for the animals and to educate owners, and the donkey Sanctuary paid for cloth screens to create shade for the donkeys at the top of the walk but they have been poorly maintained and have become detached.
A video posted on social media last week showing a donkey overloaded with garbage bags, struggling to walk triggered a storm of outrage, and the mayor of the island, eager to rescue the island’s reputation, claimed that it was an isolated incident! Ermmm..no, it wasn’t.
Apart from the donkeys being used and misused for the “Greek experience”, which is a fact, photos of overloaded donkeys keep being posted on social media, proving that donkey abuse is exactly what it sounds like: abuse.
And to be fair, Santorini is not the only island where this happens, and donkeys are not the only animals that suffer this kind of abuse. Mules and horses have been going through the same ordeal in many touristic places all around Greece, and there is no way of finding a solution to the problem.
The Greek government worries more about donkeys tax evading than it does about their living and working conditions, and those animals are a tourist trap for people around the world who make the most of the Greek experience by riding one of them.
Animal activists ask for the practice to stop, and that raises the question: what will happen to the animals after they are no longer making profit?
Santorini has its own local beer by the way. It comes in a cute little bottle, with a yellow label picturing a not loaded, cute little donkey. I had it last night, kept the bottle, and now I am looking at it wondering if it is supposed to make me smile or cry.