Stop the Abuse of Donkey Taxis in Santorini

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Originally Posted: 31 Oct 2010

Stop the Abuse of Donkey Taxis in Santorini

FROM  The Donkey Sanctuary


The Donkey Sanctuary condemns the Municipality of Santorini because of mistreatment of donkey taxis.

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In the blistering heat this summer on the Greek Island of Santorini, thousands of tourists will unload from vast cruise ships and be ferried ashore to a port which leads to the small town of Thira. The options of getting to the town located high above the port are either by cable car or donkey taxi, but because the cable car is quickly flooded by the tourists, a queue quickly builds for the donkeys and mules.

Over 200 of them have been tied up in the hot sun for hours waiting for the first of the tourists to arrive. There is a shelter and water available a little way up the steps (which lead up to Thira) but the owners choose not to rest the animals at this location as it’s not convenient for them.

Instead they gather all the donkeys and mules in the loading area at the bottom of the steps, which means that any tourist wanting to walk up to the town must first try and pass the animals, who themselves do not have enough room to stand properly and are burdened with heavy harness equipment.

The owners have been seen by our investigators hitting their donkeys and mules with sticks and berating them if they do not react quickly enough, which causes panic amongst the animals and general chaos.

The tourists using the taxis mount the donkeys/mules and start the exhausting journey up hundreds of steps to Thira. Any person, large or small, is allowed by the owners to ride the animals and unfortunately the small donkeys often carry the biggest load because larger people tend to find it difficult to climb onto the mules because they are much taller.

Once at the top, the donkeys are unloaded and either carry returning tourists to the port or they are hurried down the steps again.

Sometimes many ships can arrive in one day meaning thousands of tourists need transporting up to Thira. A donkey taxi’s work day can last from 9am until as late as 7pm and those owners who are more assertive will force their donkeys to the front of the queue causing their donkeys to work almost continually all day.

After working for many years with the Municipality of Santorini and the donkey owners themselves, The Donkey Sanctuary is sad to announce that because of their continued lack of effort to improve working conditions for the donkey taxis, we can no longer support them.

Having helped the Municipality to set up a code of practice which governed the use of the donkeys on Santorini and providing the owners with free veterinary care and advice for their animals, we recently discovered that the whole operation was a sham and that the procedures were only being adhered to when we were visiting the island! This tied in with reports from tourists who gave a completely different account to the situation we were being shown during our visits.

As if this was not enough the Municipality has tried to get us involved with a "refuge" they have set up for abandoned donkeys on the island. After advising them that they should not start a refuge until they had the correct facilities and infrastructure to look after the animals properly, they went ahead anyway and moved animals in (from where we do not know).

Our investigations of these donkey taxis and the “refuge” have raised serious questions over the welfare of the donkey taxis, and the intentions of the Municipality to get us involved. Therefore, based on the circumstances we have outlined in this report, we will not support them as is not going to resolve the welfare problems in Santorini long term.

Unless the Municipality and the donkey owners make major improvements to the working conditions for the donkey taxis and their terrible refuge, we plan to escalate this major campaign further.

We will publicise the problems facing the donkeys, including writing to the cruise ship companies asking them to give all their passengers Donkey Sanctuary leaflets about the donkey taxis and why they should not use them. We will contact newspapers, TV and radio asking them to highlight the problems in Santorini.

We will also be starting an email campaign to the Mayor of the Island, Mr Aggelos Roussos, demanding that he takes the welfare of these animals seriously. We will ask him to accept our recommendations, which are to:

  • Progress plans to build a second cable car to save the donkey taxis from this terrible situation
    Improve and enforce The Donkey Sanctuary’s code of practice for donkey taxis
    Ensure that the donkeys are properly licensed and receive veterinary inspections ensuring they are fit to work
  • Ensure that the shelters and welfare facilities that are already in place are used by the owners
    Build further facilities at the top of the steps utilisting money promised by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou of Easy Jet over a year ago
  • Work with The Donkey Sanctuary and the local welfare group to improve conditions for the donkey taxis
  • Provide proper facilities and care for the donkeys in the “refuge”

The largest part of our campaign comes down to all of you, our loyal supporters. If we are to get the Municipality of Santorini to change their ways, we must discourage tourists from using the donkey taxis. Santorini relies on tourism to be successful and if tourists stop going because of the animal welfare issues, maybe then the Municipality and the donkey owners will realise they need to act on their words.

Thank you for everything you do for animals!