Donkeys are not being bred with mules to create a stronger animal to carry overweight tourists on the steep terrain of the Greek island Santorini, as several online news sites reported this week.

Alexandra Dimopoulou, a representative with the Greek-based Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation, said the reports are false. "No, it isn't true that Santorini locals are breeding donkeys with mules to accommodate heavier tourists," she said.

Mules, a cross between a male donkey and a female horse, are virtually sterile and not used for breeding, according to The Donkey Sanctuary, a British-based advocacy group. They are considered stronger and can carry more weight than donkeys, the group said.

Last month, advocacy groups met with Santorini Mayor Nikos Zorzos to address several concerns about the welfare of equines, including how long they should work each day and how much weight they are allowed to carry.

"The problem in Santorini is not just the tourists, they use these animals all year round for work," said Christina Alexandrou, a board member and volunteer with the Hellenic Society for Equine Welfare, a Greek-based animal welfare organization.

The Donkey Sanctuary suggests visitors look at the welfare of the animal before deciding whether to saddle up.

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