Owners of donkeys transporting tourists on the Greek island of Santorini have helped improve working conditions for their animals with the collaboration of the world’s largest equine welfare charity, The Donkey Sanctuary.
Donkey and mule taxi owners have come together to pay for repairs to damaged steps as well as shelters on routes the animals use to carry tourists from one of Santorini’s ports up to the town.
Yannis Xagoraris, President of the Thira Equine Taxi Union, said: “We were frustrated with the slow progress made by the municipality to improve working conditions for our donkeys and mules. So, our members got together and paid for repairs to the lower steps ourselves to make the work easier for our donkeys and mules.
“We understand work has been hampered by municipal elections, which took place in Greece earlier this year, with spending restrictions imposed on the Mayor and his departments. Going forward we are committed to working with the new Mayor, Mr Antonis Sigalas, and his municipality to make even more substantial changes to improve the working conditions for our equines”.
The Donkey Sanctuary, with its international headquarters in the UK, is the only equine welfare charity currently working with the Santorini Municipality, the Equine Taxi Association and other key stakeholders to bring about sustainable change on the island. This includes improving welfare conditions for donkeys and mules engaged in rubbish collection, island trekking and transporting tourists up to the main town from the port.
Kate Ferguson, Programme Manager said: “The Donkey Sanctuary has made several visits to the island over the past year and has assessed the health and welfare of the working mules and donkeys on the island.
“With over 90% assessed as having good health, we are reassured the health of the animals is not the main issue. The challenges we have identified are around the working conditions and we will continue to work with all parties involved to create lasting change to support the health and welfare of the working donkeys and mules in Santorini.”
The charity has found many owners have more than just respect for their animals; as Yannis Xagoraris, explained: “We are very committed to the protection of our animals, ensuring they have access to adequate food, good shelter and in general all the care they need. Our mules and donkeys are part of our lives, our family and part of our daily routine – in short, we love them!”
The Donkey Sanctuary does not actively promote the use of donkeys and mules in tourism but recognises that donkeys and mules form an important part of the social, cultural heritage and economic foundations of many countries.
In Greece, donkeys and mules are an intrinsic part of the tourism industry, providing families and communities with an opportunity to create a sustainable livelihood. Animal welfare remains key and must be a priority.
The Donkey Sanctuary is looking forward to working with the new Mayor Mr Antonis Sigalas and will continue conducting health and welfare visits throughout the year while continuing to work in liaison with all stakeholders on the island.