You are here

Take Steps

Standing up for working equines

Being the world’s ‘voice of the donkey’ has its challenges, but we will never stop working to improve welfare conditions for these beautiful animals whenever and wherever suffering and neglect are inflicted.

We’ve been working on the Greek island of Santorini since 2006 to improve welfare conditions for the 360 donkeys and mules working as tourist taxis.

An independent report produced last year revealed that many of these animals are forced to carry overweight passengers and are denied access to shade, water and rest for hours at a time.

Poor quality saddles and bridles are often used and safety guidelines are regularly ignored, placing tourists at risk of injury.

A recent YouGov survey revealed that almost a third (30%) of adults have seen animals that looked like they were being or have been mistreated whilst on holiday abroad and, of these, 55% of people had seen it happening to animals working in the tourism industry.

More than 20,000 people signed our Take STEPS. petition to improve the poor working conditions for donkeys and mules in Santorini.

In December 2014, Andrew Judge, our Head of Operations for Continental Europe, together with a representative from Animal Action Greece, met with the Ministry of Tourism in Athens to hand over the petition.

The petition was accepted, and it was agreed that the Ministry of Tourism would write an official letter to the Ministry of Agriculture to put pressure on them to regulate the welfare conditions of the working equines.

This summer, The Donkey Sanctuary is again urging UK tourists to “Take STEPS” to avoid participating in acts of animal cruelty this summer.

Being on holiday is not an excuse for ignoring signs that animals are in pain or distress.

Andrew Judge says: “Being on holiday is not an excuse for ignoring signs that animals are in pain or distress.

"Tourist taxi donkeys and mules, like those on the island of Santorini, Greece, are made to stand in the baking heat with no shade or water for hours on end and are often forced to carry passengers who are far too heavy which causes injuries and exhaustion.

“This summer we urge British tourists to stop before riding a donkey or mule and consider if they may be contributing to the animal’s suffering.

"Sadly, the evidence shows that tourists cannot rely on these business owners to look after their animals properly and tourists must check for themselves that acts of cruelty aren’t taking place.

"People need to use our Take STEPS checklist before riding a donkey or mule.”

Tourists should Take STEPS before riding a tourist taxi animal and ask themselves:


Safety: Will you be escorted by a conductor at all times during the ride?

Thirst: Does this animal have access to fresh, clean water?

Equipment: Is the saddle and bridle of good quality or is it causing sores or discomfort?

Pounds: Are you an acceptable weight for this animal to carry?

Shelter: Does this animal have access to shelter during rest breaks?


If tourists are not 100% happy with the answers to the above questions then they should not ride a donkey or mule.

We are all responsible for the welfare of these animals and until conditions improve, The Donkey Sanctuary is urging all UK tourists to avoid taking part in acts of animal cruelty.

Donkeys should be carefully assessed to determine the maximum rider weight they can carry. Historically “8 stone (50 kg)” has been used as a guideline.

In reality this should be the maximum load for a fit, larger than average donkey and only when the rider is able to stay balanced and react to the movements of the donkey.

All tack used should be clean, well maintained and appropriately fitted to the individual donkey.

We will continue our Take STEPS campaign and are collaborating closely with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and a large number of tour and cruise ship operators, including Cruise Lines International Association.

Some are now even briefing tourists before they disembark from the cruise ships, and providing information on their Apps and literature.

We will build on this in the coming year as the campaign gathers momentum and support.

If you are concerned that a donkey is in pain, unwell or generally neglected, please complete our European Donkey in Distress Checklist online form.