Donkeys are a common site in rural areas where they are used by the populace to help them transport commodities. However, this could be a thing of the past as donkey populations continue plummeting courtesy of their being slaughtered for their skin which is used  to make a ‘ejiao’ a traditional Chinese medicine.

The Donkey Sanctuary, an international animal welfare charity, in their latest report named “Under the Skin Updatehas indicated that local donkey populations have crashed in a number of countries as increasing demand for ejiao has led to an unsustainable number of donkeys being slaughtered.

Gelatine in donkey hides is a key ingredient in ejiao and The Donkey Sanctuary is now calling for an urgent halt to the largely unregulated global trade in donkey skins before donkeys are virtually wiped out in some areas. The supply of donkey skins cannot meet demand in China, which needs around 4.8 million hides per-year for ejiao production, so traders, mainly in Africa, Asia and South America, are exporting additional skins to China.

In Kenya, Government officials have expressed serious concerns for their national herd with a slaughter rate of nearly 380,000 annually putting relentless pressure on donkey populations.

Conditions in many donkey slaughterhouses are also appalling. The Naivasha slaughterhouse was closed in May 2017 after witnesses recorded footage of dead and dying donkeys some with open, maggot-infested wounds. Aborted foetuses were also seen as well as skinned carcasses dumped next to live donkeys awaiting slaughter. However, the slaughterhouse reopened soon afterwards.

So far, donkey populations in China have collapsed by 76% since 1992. Since 2007, donkey populations have declined by 28% in Brazil, by 37% in Botswana and by 53% in Kyrgyzstan. With just under five million skins needed every year for ejiao production, the industry would need more than half the world’s current population of donkeys over the next five years to meet demand.

A collapse of the global donkey population will have a  damaging impact on the livelihoods of an estimated 500 million people in some of the world’s poorest communities that the animals support. Donkeys transport goods to market, carry water and wood, provide access to education and are a vital source of income for vulnerable communities, particularly women.

The Donkey Sanctuary is calling for the ejiao industry to cut links with the global skin trade and move towards more sustainable sources of raw materials provided by cellular agriculture such as the use of artificially grown donkey-derived collagen. The charity is also recommending that the Chinese Government suspend the import of donkeys and their products until both can be proven to be disease free, humane, sustainable and safe and for national governments to take immediate steps to stop the trade.

Towards this, the Donkey Sanctuary will host a 2 day conference in Nairobi on the 26th and 27th November. The Donkey Sanctuary, Brooke East Africa and IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) will discuss how to end the skin trade in the region.