Regardless of opinion on whether or not donkeys and mules should be working in tourism, there is one thing that donkey lovers must unite on: the welfare of any working animal needs to be placed at the forefront of a business' priorities. Sadly, this is not always the case.
Why are donkeys and mules used in tourism and leisure - and what are the challenges they face?
Donkeys and mules work in tourism around the world. They are commonly used to transport passengers or luggage, or to pull carts and wagons. They also accompany tourists on bush walks, carrying heavy equipment.
Donkeys are calmer and more intelligent than horses and therefore less likely to bolt, while their size makes them easy to mount. Their walking pace matches that of a human, which ensures a more comfortable ride and they can navigate tricky terrain.
However, donkeys and mules in some tourist hotspots 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. Donkeys can be made to travel long distances in harsh climates and tough environments.
British beach donkeys
In the UK, donkeys are a common sight at seaside resorts, giving tourists rides along the beach. The earliest record of donkeys working on beaches in the UK dates back to 1780. They were used because of their quiet disposition and gentle nature, and were usually ridden side saddle.
Some of the donkey ride ‘stands’ have been in the same family for up to four generations. Many seaside towns have made regulations, setting out the donkey's daily working hours and its right to have one day off work each week. They also stipulate the maximum age and weight of the riders.
All of the UK’s beach donkeys require, by law, an annual vet check in order to certify them as fit to work. The vet wants to ensure that the donkey is fit for the job and should remain fit for at least the next six months.
Sadly, good standards of equine welfare are not always adhered to by UK business owners. The Donkey Sanctuary has intervened in instances of severe animal cruelty, wherein the needs of the business have been placed above the needs of the animal. It is our aim to ensure that the health and happiness of the donkeys and mules always come first when they are being used for business and leisure purposes.
Donkeys in international tourism
Although legislature in the UK aims to ensure the protection of working donkeys' and mules' welfare, international policies are sometimes less stringent. The Donkey Sanctuary aims not only intervenes in instances of cruelty towards working animals abroad, but also fights for legislative change in order to help donkeys and mules for years to come.
Our work in Santorini, Greece, has helped to influence the betterment of conditions for donkeys often carrying loads far exceeding the recommended weight limit, without access to shade or water. Following positive talks with the Mayor of Santorini, we are hopeful that life will improve for donkeys both on the ground and through protective legislation.
If you are planning on taking a holiday to a place in which donkeys and mules are used for tourism - from carrying luggage to trail rides - be sure to watch our short animated film and find out how you can be a responsible tourist.