'Don't be an ass,' is the island's message to visitors.

A campaign is being launched by the Greek island of Santorini telling tourists to take other ways up from the shore.

Donkeys have long been the choice mode of transporting tourists up the 600 famously steep steps that cut up the island's cliffs from the shore.

The animals were long seen part of the 'real Greek' experience and marketed as part of the Island's history.

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Real Greek: Souvenirs of the traditional Santorini donkeys. Photo / Athanasios Gioumpasis, Getty Images
Real Greek: Souvenirs of the traditional Santorini donkeys. Photo / Athanasios Gioumpasis, Getty Images

However the animals' welfare has been called into question, with spinal injuries and saddle sores being reported along with inhumane hours and lack of shelter in the 28 degree heats.

In response to this a new campaign 'In Their Hooves' has been launched to persuade tourists to take other modes of transport up the steep volcanic cliffs.

"Our In Their Hooves campaign aims to encourage tourists to stop and think before using donkey taxis to climb the steep steps at Fira port," said Catherine Rice, PR officer at The Donkey Sanctuary, which launched the initiative. "It suggests holidaymakers consider whether donkeys and mules are being treated humanely, have enough shade and water, as well as whether loads they are being asked to carry are suitable. If not, other options, such as walking or taking a cable car, might be a more responsible mode of transport."

In their hooves: Firostefani on Santorini Island, Greece. Photo / Getty Images
In their hooves: Firostefani on Santorini Island, Greece. Photo / Getty Images

Since 1979 there has been a cable car connecting the bay and the town, however many visitors still prefer to take a donkey.

Nikos Zorzos, the island's mayor told the Guardian that much of the tourism industry was aware of the problem ahead of the campaign launch:

"Representatives from the cruise liner association were here in my office this week promising to raise awareness [of the problem] and from our side we'll be distributing information leaflets. Our mules and donkeys are part of our tradition. Younger owners, especially, have understood that they need to be looked after."

There are about 4000 of the animals on the island.

Mule taxis: There are about 4000 of the animals on the island. Photo / Nano Calvo, Getty Images
Mule taxis: There are about 4000 of the animals on the island. Photo / Nano Calvo, Getty Images

and a ban on riders deemed 'too-fat' from being carried.

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The island deemed "any load exceeding 100kg" (including human cargo) to be cruel to the animals.

Breaking these animal welfare measures is punishable by fines of € 15000 ($25000) and up to a year in prison.

The move came after the animal welfare advocacy PETA raised 109,000 signatures for a petition titled: "Stop animal abuse of donkeys and horses in Santorini".

The island is a popular stop off on the itineraries of Mediterranean cruises.

Cruise climb: A cap was introduced to reduce the 18000 daily visotors coming ashore. Photo / Getty Images
Cruise climb: A cap was introduced to reduce the 18000 daily visotors coming ashore. Photo / Getty Images

Daily limits were put on ship disembarkations, to just 8000 visitors a day, down from 18000 in 2016 due to over-crowding.

Cruise passengers will now be asked to put themselves 'In their Hooves' as part of the new campaign, and the Cruise Lines International Association (Clia) took on board the new safeguarding measures for animal welfare.