Animal rights activists in Santorini have gained a small victory for donkey welfare as the Greek government passed legislation which protects working donkeys from being overburdened.

The island’s capital, Fira is 400m above sea level, and tourists who don’t fancy the long walk to the top have the option to make a donkey do the long walk for them. All over the world, donkeys are used to carry heavy loads and are often kept in poor conditions without food, water and shelter. In Santorini, donkeys are used to transport tourists and luggage up and down the island’s narrow paths and steep hills and are often forced to carry more than they can handle.

This has caused spinal damage to the animals as well as open wounds caused by ill-fitting saddles.

After an online petition to ‘stop the animal abuse of donkeys and horses in Santorini’ reached 109,000 signatures, and pressure from the international animal rights community, the Greek agriculture ministry has made it illegal for owners to burden any animal with a load exceeding one-fifth of its weight, or 100kg for bigger animals.

For overweight tourists, this may now mean that they’ll either have to walk or take a cable car from the port to the capital.

However, not everyone is convinced that the new laws will make a difference.

Chief executive of the Greek Animal Welfare Fund, Paul McGlone, said: “Greece has good laws but all too often fails to implement them. It’s not only [donkey] owners in this case who need to be responsible, who have to say ‘you appear to be too heavy, I am sorry, but my animal has limits’. Tourists, too, also need to make an informed decision.”

Despite this new legislation being a step in the right direction, animal rights activists still believe that the donkeys shouldn’t be used as taxis for any tourist regardless of their weight.

Animal rights group PETA stated that the new policy “won’t prevent the daily suffering that these donkeys endure”.

Santorini’s mayor, Nikos Zorzos, has fully backed the movement to improve the lives of the donkeys:

“There are around 300 donkeys down at the port, but elsewhere too, they have always played a role in our island’s economic and social development. Santorini was practically built with donkeys. As with human beings, there are good and bad owners. We are talking about an isolated few. The majority know that as working animals and the source of their income, they need to be cared for,” he said, “By 2020, this measure will be fully enforced, and life will become more tolerable for all, including our donkeys and mules.”