Understanding the Global Donkey Trade

Do you ever wonder what the growing concern with the “Donkey Trade” is about? Maybe you have a vague comprehension of the gist but not the particulars about the matter. Donkeys have over centuries been of great help to mankind; they have been used in agriculture, transport, and in some societies, they are used for medicine. According to Dr. Ssuna, “more than half the world’s population depends on donkeys for power…misconception of their endurance leads to welfare issues” (Ssuna, 2016,p.15). The recent hike in concern over Donkey welfare has arisen due to the recent increase in demand for donkey hides by the Chinese.

Traditionally, the Chinese use donkey hides to make Ejiao, a sticky gelatin like substance which is believed to be medicine to cure several conditions such as insomnia, coughs and is also believed to be a beauty potion. Donkey skin is said to be rich in collagen which is beneficial for the skin. Even though Ejiao and this use of donkeys is age-old in China, the recent rise in demand for donkeys in Africa and the product Ejiao itself across the world is attributed to several reasons.

Donkeys are known to be reared by humble communities and due to industrialization; the Chinese economy has taken a turn in recent years making China a global economic power to be reckoned with. This has led to the reduction in the number of people raising donkeys within China, and so to meet the growing demand for Ejiao the Chinese eye has turned to Africa as the source for the much desired donkey skins. Also, Ejiao is no longer for the Chinese only as was previously the case. Dr. Ssuna adds that “the market is inadvertently broadened further by the emergence of e-marketing, extensive travel and international investment by Chinese companies and global investment by Chinese in TCM outlets.” 

Concerns over the “Donkey Trade” arise excessively due to misconduct in relation to animal welfare issues; the rearing, transportation and slaughter of donkeys that are used in this trade has been said to be gravely lacking in consideration for the well-being of the donkeys. One such case was reported in South Africa, where four men were arrested in Polokwane. The men had stuffed a truck that they were driving with over forty donkeys that they were taking to the slaughter house. They did not mind that many of the donkeys were crushed, collapsed or already dead. To them, the donkeys were going to be slaughtered anyway. When the truck was apprehended, a lot of the donkeys were euthanized as they were in great pain from the poor condition they were subjected to during the transportation.

Another deep cause for alarm revolving around this trade is the issue of theft. Since many of the families rearing the donkeys are not well to do, they are unable to provide adequate security for their animals, and so the unscrupulous donkey-skin traders take advantage of these circumstances and steal the donkeys. This affects the livelihood of the families that depend on donkeys substantially. For instance in Nigeria, the Nigeria Customs Service closed down  some export houses on reports that stolen donkey skins were being exported out of the country, this serves as an indicator of how far reaching the problem is.

Another deplorable fact is that donkey traders prefer buying ailing donkeys as they are pegged at a lower price but yet when slaughtered and skinned they still get good quality skin which they are able to sell off at a good price. The environmental and public health risk raised by this cannot be overlooked; in Burkina Faso for instance, the people of one of the communities stormed a slaughter house because the stench emanating from there and was contaminating the air was a result of the unhygienic manner in which the donkeys were handled at the slaughterhouse. This is the case even for the other traders; they have not established hygienic means of disposing of donkey carcasses after they have been skinned and so the carcasses decompose in the open, posing a health risk to people.

This is why many animal welfare organizations are calling for a ban on the trade as it is adversely affecting the donkeys and people as well. ALL CREATURES is also amongst the organizations involved in the work of improving the welfare of donkeys. We are currently running a project I Tete Mozambique and this we are able to do with support from The Donkey Sanctuary. We also want to play a part in ensuring that the welfare of donkeys is properly considered.