Number of working donkeys shrinks as Chinese seek skins

Abattoirs slaughter them five times more than their 1.4 per cent growth rate

MONDAY March 21, 2022

Donkeys skin trade, theft and smuggling are a burden to East African women and children. PHOTO | WORLD VISION

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

Donkeys are now endangered species in East Africa, thanks to ejiao, a Chinese traditional concoction for several ailments and beauty, for activating trade, poaching and smuggling of the animals in the region.

Used in food, drinks and beauty products, ejiao is a gelatinous substance obtained by rendering and processing of donkey hides.

The ingredient is believed to slow down the aging process, enrich blood and stop bleeding, improve blood circulation and to cure insomnia and dizziness.

China had the largest donkeys’ population globally, the position it lost to Ethiopia two decades ago, compelling the ejiao suppliers to search for the ingredient elsewhere, particularly in East and The Horn of Africa.

The population of donkeys in Ethiopia alone standing at over 8.5 million in 2018 attracted traders to resort to the region to source the 3 million skins China needs to meet its demand for the ejiao production.

Demand for donkey skin, which is used in China for making traditional medicine, has been blamed for halving Kenya’s donkey population. PHOTO | NMG

A total of 19,427 donkeys were slaughtered in Tanzania and over 100,590 others in Kenya in 2017/18, prompting activists to be up in arms over an alarming rate of decline and threatened extinction of the domestic animals.

To the astonishment of activists, livestock experts in Kenya argue, nevertheless, saying notwithstanding the slaughtering for export, the donkeys’ national herd in the country rose from 1.8 million in 2009 to 1.9 million in 2019.

The critics maintain that the rate of slaughtering would deplete donkey stocks in Kenya by 2023, explaining that the increase the livestock experts cite result from donkeys smuggled into the country from its neighbours.

The Tanzania government banned the donkey slaughter in 2017 only to fuel smuggling of the same into neighbouring countries with abattoirs. Kenya’s attempt to revoke a license of a slaughter house in 2020 also proved futile.

Star Brilliant Abattoir challenged the Kenya government’s decision at the High Court which on May 5, 2021, ruled in favour of the slaughter house on grounds that the firm had heavily invested in machinery at its plant.

Abattoirs in Kenya neither have stock farms nor strategies for sustainable supply of donkeys. PHOTO | THE DONKEY SANCTUARY

Star Brilliant Abattoir, which neither has a stock farm nor strategies for sustainable supply, slaughters over 50 donkeys largely kept by the peasant population a day.

Combined licensed abattoirs in Kenya slaughter five times higher than the 1.4 per cent growth rate of the donkey population in the country.

Save for bone meal consumed locally by animal feed processors, 100 per cent of donkey products are exported raw to China and so is the 95 per cent of the frozen meat.

Kenya is not benefiting much from the donkey skin trade, as the value chain employs few people on contract basis with no evidence of tax records or social responsibility programmes within the communities.

A donkey is a working animal to East Africans, pulling the ploughs used for farming, transporting water for domestic use, carrying firewood and transporting farm produce to markets or graded roads for onward delivery to buyers.

A donkey is not food but rather a working animal to East Africans. PHOTO | MMEGI ONLINE

The dramatic increase in donkey trade, theft and smuggling is a burden to women and children who have to perform most of the chores in absence of the working animals.

School drop outs are rising, as community members can no longer buy donkeys whose price in Tanzania, for instance, has jumped from Sh50,000 (about $21.7) to Sh300,000 (about $130.4) each.

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) already has embarked on an assessment of the donkey skin trade to ascertain its impact on the livelihoods of communities dependent on the domestic fauna, environment and animal rights.

The EALA Committee on Communication, Trade and Investment and Agriculture has visited Kenya and Tanzania and is scheduled to go to Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda to assess the situation on the ground.

During its visits, the committee hears views of affected communities, activists, abattoirs, donkey products exporters and officials responsible for the East African Community (EAC), Trade and Agriculture on the trade.

The East African Legislative Assembly is assessing the impact of donkey skin trade on the livelihoods of communities dependent on the working animals, environment and animal rights.. PHOTO | BROOKE

Given the key role donkeys play in communities that depend on them for livelihood, the EALA Committee believes research institutions can explore the opportunity for the high demand of donkeys in China to establish breeding centresΩ

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