The Fat-Shamers of Santorini

The fat-shamers of Santorini are donkeys, and this is not an insult flung to start a flamewar. No, they literally are donkeys, and their wordless suffering is an indictment of humanity’s selfishness.

The Greek island of Santorini is a popular tourist destination. Cruise ships bring as many as 1,000 visitors per day, and a lot of them take donkey rides. Janine Puhak wrote:

Claiming that the number of overweight tourists from the U.K., U.S. and Russia have only continued to increase in recent years, Help the Santorini Donkeys charity is now calling for a weight restriction for riders.

The Santorini donkeys are a big story at the moment, but not a new story. In the spring of 2013, animal rights groups were protesting, and even some of the cruise lines, who make their profits thanks in part to the rocky donkey rides, asked tourists to forego them. Travel advisor Donny B wrote:

The roughly 360 donkeys and mules that work as tourist “taxis” on the island are forced to climb up and back down a pathway with around 600 steep steps, making as many as seven trips a day between 9 o’clock in the morning and sunset. Often, the animals are required to carry tourists who, putting it bluntly, are obese and may weigh considerably more than the donkeys themselves.

One thing seems to have changed for the better. Reportedly, even in the busy season, a present-day donkey only gives four or five tourist rides per diem.

Two years after that news report, there was a sad event when a donkey killed a German tourist — but not during a ride. The woman was walking with friends, the day after her birthday, and died after being hit and trampled by the donkey, who happened to be in town with its owner.

In the now

The Sun reporter learned from Christina Kaloudi that while some donkey owners are good, others tend to work an animal almost to death and then drop it off at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association shelter, which she founded. Kaloudi said, “If they are not transporting tourists up the steps, they are moving building materials or transporting heavy bags of rubbish.”

The donkeys sustain spinal injuries and other orthopedic problems. Even a healthy donkey in its prime should only carry, 112 pounds, max. How many American or British or Russian adults meet that standard? Plus, it’s just generally an awful life for the beasts. In hot weather, with little or no shade or water, they carry obese strangers up and down cobbled steps. Hundreds of steps.

Changes across the board

And what are the people who rent out donkey rides supposed to do about it? They can hardly install weighing stations. That would attract far more negative attention than the plight of the donkeys, and probably lead quickly to international incidents of the hostile kind.

The donkey-owning entrepreneurs have been forced to breed their animals with more sturdy ones, which results in a need for more space and more food for each one, and higher costs to the owners. And they have to buy more saddles.

Saddles are already a problem, because when they don’t fit correctly, the skin is abraded and pretty soon there are open wounds, with all the attendant misery. While no one would claim that overweight tourists cause all a donkey’s problems, they sure don’t help.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Obese’ tourists from US and UK blamed for crippling donkeys in Greece, activists say,”, 07/31/18
Source: “Don’t ride the donkeys!,”, 04/12/13
Source: “Cruise passenger killed by donkey in Santorini,”, 10/09/18
Photo credit: Graeme Churchard (GOC53) on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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