The first time that I remember seeing, really seeing, a working donkey was during a trip to Egypt. We were in the center of Cairo, riding in a car, along with many thousand other cars, moving on those hot, dry, dusty streets. Right in the middle of all of that traffic, a donkey was walking at the side of the road, laden with so many hundred pieces of wood that it was difficult to see his head or his torso. As we rolled past, I stared at his sagging body while the image burned itself into my mind. And I have never forgotten.
Looking back from today, I can appreciate the radical importance for me of the sight of that working animal. The colossal effort he was making could not be overstated; asking a donkey or mule to carry such weight was just, plain wrong. In the years since, I have witnessed many other donkeys, straining under loads, loads which were too often heavy human beings, people on holiday, visiting the sites and apparently oblivious of their weight pushing down on the animals’ backs. On occasion I would comment out loud and address the donkeys’ owners but I was too often ignored, dismissed as being an emotional woman.
With all of that in mind, in recent years I have become aware of other voices calling for change; more and more people expressing distaste for the animals’ abuse. Now, in recent months a major step has been taken, initiated earlier this year by The Donkey Sanctuary headquartered in Sidmouth, England. That organization has launched a hard-hitting, responsible tourism campaign called “IN THEIR HOOVES”, which encourages tourists who may not always be aware, to take a step back and think how they might feel working in the same conditions as the donkeys and mules they come across in their travels.
The initial focus of this campaign has been Santorini, Greece, where 200+ steps are required to be climbed in order to visit a renowned monastery. All day long, in the blazing sunshine, donkeys carry tourists up and down those stairs. The Donkey Sanctuary has joined forces with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry’s trade association. The animated film in this link is being shown to passengers on CLIA member cruises before they disembark on the island:
Guided by the 5 questions below, passengers are urged to look out for signs of stress and if they are seen, to report the situation at the nearest police station or municipal office.
- WATER – Is fresh water accessible?
- SHELTER -Is there shelter for rest periods away from the sun?
- OWNER BEHAVIOUR – Is the animal being mistreated?
- WOUNDS – Are there open wounds or signs of injury?
- WEIGHT – Are the animals being asked to carry an acceptable weight?
All those times that I complained about the over-worked animals, I never reported my concerns; I didn’t think it would do any good. Now, however, things are different and campaigns like “In Their Hooves” inform me that my single voice, directed to appropriate authorities, will join those of other people and help to protect the donkeys and mules we see on our travels.
Sandra Pady, Founder