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Santorini Mules and Donkeys Exploited for Profit

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Animal welfare is a major issue for more and more people. Credit: Pixabay/Public Domain

By Tony Cross

The interesting article on the Santorini mules and donkeys by Michael Ermogenis was well informed and well written. It was, however, largely a description of the history of the use of mules and donkeys on the island, and this historical use was used as a justification for their continued use today.

That simply does not follow, their use in historical times is not sufficient justification for their continued use today. We no longer cut the hands off people who steal for example, not in Greece anyway.

It’s well-known I think that mules and donkeys have been used as a means of transport, both for people and goods, for thousands of years all over Greece. Their historical use as a means of transport is not unique to Santorini nor to the island’s geology or topography.

Almost everywhere else in Greece, the use of mules and donkeys has largely been phased out. Here on Crete for example, I am often asked by tourists where they can get a picture of an old lady riding a donkey. It’s an image of the island that is still used in some tourist brochures but it’s something that is extremely rare to see here today.

My wife and I support one of the many donkey sanctuaries on Crete, almost all of their animals have been surrendered by families who no longer have need of them and can thus no longer justify the cost of their care.

Incidentally, this donkey sanctuary, in common with most others on the island, is seeing growing numbers of tourists who care about the welfare of these animals and want to see them being properly looked after. It’s clear that taking care of your mules and donkeys in
sanctuaries can be as big a tourist draw as using them for transport.

I note too the argument about the geology of Santorini, and as someone with a bachelor’s degree in geology I’m well aware of the friability of the cliffs of the Santorini caldera. Yet there is a modern cable car in operation up to Fira and so the geological problems can be overcome.

Mules and donkeys in Santorini carry tourists for profit

I think we need to be clear about why the mules and donkeys are there.

Clearly, they are a popular tourist attraction. Tourists would much prefer a photo of themselves on the back of a mule or donkey than inside a modern clinical cable car, but is that a sufficient reason for using animals for work that can be done by a cable car?

In addition, I am sure there are families and businesses on the island that make a handsome living from using their mules and donkeys to carry tourists for profit. More cable cars would destroy their livelihood, so of course they are resistant to reductions in their use.

But is the livelihood of a few families and businesses sufficient justification for continuing to exploit animals for tourism?

And that’s without mentioning, as Michael Ermogenis agrees, that not all mule and donkey owners treat their animals humanely. Yet all he has to offer are ‘awareness and training’ programs to counter what he himself admits are people still ‘stuck in mindsets they inherited from generations past’.

The entire thrust of his article can be summed up in three sentences: We’ve always used mules and donkeys in this way, and so by extension it’s ok to use them in this way now. It’s difficult and costly to build cable cars up the Santorini cliffs. The animal owners are stuck in mindsets inherited from generations ago.

We are very nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century and yet there is not a word in this article of how – or even whether – the use of mules and donkeys might be phased out. It’s way past time that these 19th-century practices were abandoned, exploiting animals purely for the enjoyment of tourists is not acceptable in the 21st century.

Santorini is a massive tourist draw for so many reasons and abandoning the use of mules and donkeys wouldn’t stop the tourists from coming. The people of Santorini need to wake up and smell the coffee, animal welfare is a major issue for more and more people – and especially the young.

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