Moscow - A braying donkey attached to a parachute and sent soaring in the blue skies above the beaches of southern Russia has stunned holidaymakers and prompted a police enquiry, officials said Tuesday.
Attached to a parachute pulled by a speedboat, the apparently terrified animal circled over heads of holidaymakers sunbathing last week on a beach on the Sea of Azov in the Cossack village of Golubitskaya in the Krasnodar region.
A regional police spokeswoman said the donkey ended up in the skies as a result of an impromptu advertising campaign by several entrepreneurial Russians to attract beachgoers to their beach where they could indulge in the thrill of parasailing.
Instead, they attracted the attention of regional police who learned of the flying donkey earlier this week and launched a probe.
"The donkey screamed and children cried," regional police spokeswoman Larisa Tuchkova told AFP. "No-one had the brains to call police."
Instead, she said, people reached for their cameras and bombarded a local newspaper with phone calls.
Pictures broadcast on state television showed the organisers of the stunt attaching the cords of the parachute to the donkey's back on the beach as dozens of holidaymakers looked on.
As the speedboat moves, the donkey is swept from the beach at speed and taken high into the sky, frantically swinging its legs in panic as the boat circles around the water.
"It was put up so high into the sky that the children on the beach cried and asked their parents: "Why did they tie a doggy to a parachute?" the newspaper, Taman, said late last week.
"The donkey landed in an atrocious manner: it was dragged several metres along the water, after which the animal was pulled out half-alive onto the shore."
The incident is stunning even for a country where animal cruelty is widespread and came as a shock to the locals, said Taman newspaper's editor, Elena Iovleva.
"This has never happened before," she told AFP.
Another regional police spokesman, Denis Yegorov, said the owner of the donkey had left the village taking the animal with him. "We are now looking for him," he told AFP.
"I wonder how the guys (the onlookers) did not knock his teeth out," Yegorov added.
Animal rights groups, meanwhile, said they were flabbergasted.
"The sadists have shown their know-how," Konstantin Sabinin, a projects director at Vita told AFP. "It's an extremely despicable event."
Earlier in the day Vita filed an official request to the General Prosecutor's Office to punish those responsible for "egregious cruelty."
The animal rights group called on the authorities to take the incident seriously to finally put a stop to animal cruelty in Russia.
Activists say Russian laws protecting animals are woefully inadequate.
Pro-Kremlin youth groups have in the past used various animals and birds, including an ostrich, a turkey, sheep and a dead donkey's ears, for their bizarre street theatre to attack opposition activists. - Sapa-AFP