18 August 2021

Donkeys need a break too! How to be a responsible tourist

Kimberly Wells, Brooke Senior Manager, Global Animal Welfare, discusses the popularity of working animals in tourism and how holidaymakers can make responsible choices. 

Mules line up for tourists at the Vaishno Devi temple, Katra, India

Imagine it’s upwards of 35°C outside, you’ve just arrived in Santorini Old Harbour and you’re looking up at the 600 steps to the island’s capital, Fira. You take the plunge and walk it, knowing there’s a cold drink and plenty of rest at the top.

Now imagine doing this over and over again, without any rest, while carrying tourists and heavy luggage. This is the life of many donkeys on the island.

Working animals are a familiar sight at many of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, including the UK. From donkeys and horses, to camels and sled dogs, animals around the world are used to pull carts, carriages and sleds to add to the authenticity of the tourist experience.

So, with trips to places like Santorini ever popular, it’s important we do our bit to promote good welfare practices and prevent unnecessary suffering.

Think before you ride

We all have a responsibility to make positive choices. Think about how an animal’s welfare is considered within the tourist experience and ask yourself three questions when it comes to using a working horse, donkey or mule: is the animal happy and healthy? Can the animal carry or pull my weight? Am I paying a fair price?

Check out the Happy Horses Holiday Code

Brooke’s 10 point guide on how to assess welfare practices when on holiday can greatly aid you here. Starting with matching your size to the horse or donkey – they’re not always as strong as you might think – to ensure your weight is evenly balanced, the guide details the importance of one person per animal, and the need for one wheel per person when riding in a carriage. You’ll also find tips on appraising the physical and mental welfare of animals quickly and how to feel more confident if they are healthy and happy.

Be an ambassador for change!

In 2018, over 108,000 people signed an online petition demanding an end to donkey rides in Santorini for tourists ‘who want the ‘real Greek’ experience.’ The petition prompted the Greek government to enact legislation making it illegal to burden animals with ‘any load exceeding 100kg (15st), or one-fifth of their body weight.’

Just a few years earlier in 2014, Brooke and the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority (PDTRA) launched Care for Petra, a campaign to improve tourist attitudes and behaviour towards working animals, working children and the historic monuments of Petra in Jordan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The campaign is still promoted by PDTRA to this day and, as of 2021, carriage horses have now been replaced by eco-friendly buggy cars.

Through the power of community action, we can all play a role in building a better life for working animals.

Report mistreatment of animals

Above all, it’s really important that if you see an animal being mistreated, you make a formal complaint to your tour operator, tourist police or the local authorities.

During my visits to the field to tourist locations such as Petra, Jordan and Cairo, Egypt, I have seen countless examples of poor welfare among working animals. It is often clear their owners are struggling too.

Sustainable change in such places takes time. Health and welfare issues are often caused by a myriad of factors, and I do believe that every little bit of help counts.

As tourists, we have a real power to prevent a working animal from suffering, by promoting positive welfare and refraining from engaging with and rewarding scenarios where animals are suffering. Working animals can’t improve their own welfare, but people can.

We hope Brooke’s Happy Horses Holiday Code helps with this decision making – we need you as an animal welfare champion!

A simple first step to becoming an ambassador for change is by spreading the word - Share the code with friends who might be planning a holiday soon