Animal rights group PETA has accused Greek authorities of covering up what it called the "cruel" treatment of donkeys on the popular island of Santorini and blocking its efforts to highlight their plight.
Famous for its sunsets, the volcanic island draws millions of tourists annually. Donkeys and mules are one traditional mode of transport but PETA says they are forced to carry visitors and their luggage up steep hills when cable cars are available.
PETA, which published footage from 2018 showing animals being whipped with sticks and overloaded, accused local authorities of blocking its campaign on buses and taxis depicting an exhausted donkey next to the words "Donkeys Suffer for Tourists. Please Don't Ride Them."
"Greek authorities should be stepping up and stopping donkeys from being marched into the ground in Santorini, not covering up the cruelty of forcing them to carry heavy loads of tourists up hundreds of steps," PETA Director Elisa Allen said in a statement.
The group said about 100 out of 2,000 donkeys and mules are being used for tourist rides on the island.
Santorini Mayor Nikos Zorzos said authorities were abiding by Greek law which protects the animals and said "several organisations" had deemed they were in good health.
"We care about their well-being," Zorzos told Reuters, adding that the municipality had no jurisdiction over any campaign on buses or taxis.
Tourism is a key source of revenue for Greece which has emerged from a multi-year financial crisis, accounting for about a quarter of its economic output. The country had a record number of about 33 million visitors last year.
The group said it would consider other options to make tourists on Santorini aware of the animals' ordeal this summer.