The donkey skin trade causes suffering to many donkeys. Learn more about the trade and the steps we are taking to combat it.
Here at The Donkey Sanctuary, we have been aware of the skin trade for some time; its scale and impact make it the most significant challenge we have ever faced.
We are mobilising our resources to fight this threat, but unless the trade halts and safe and sustainable alternatives for ejiao, the end product of the trade, are found, donkeys' futures look bleak.
We are having an impact. Progress is sometimes slow, but we know our efforts are having a positive effect. Donkeys are becoming harder to find for skin traders, and owners are stoutly protecting their working donkeys.
What's causing the demand for donkey skins?
Millions of donkeys are slaughtered every year so that consumers can buy a traditional Chinese remedy - ejiao. Ejiao is a multi-million-pound global industry, despite its benefits remaining scientifically unproven.
It is made from collagen extracted by boiling donkey skin and threatens to devastate donkey populations and hundreds of millions of people who depend on them for their livelihoods.
The supply of donkey skins is unable to keep up with the demand. With just under five million skins needed every year for ejiao production, the industry would need more than half the world's current donkeys over the next five years.
How does the skin trade impact donkeys?
The skin trade poses an unprecedented threat and is jeopardising global donkey populations. The supply of donkey skins cannot keep up with demand, and the strain is already beginning to show.
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 53% in Kyrgyzstan.
Unhygienic practices during transport, slaughter and hide processing create an increased risk of spreading dangerous diseases such as anthrax and equine diseases like equine flu. As we battle with the global Covid-19 pandemic, the risk of diseases spread between animals and people draws into an even sharper focus.
The dangers of the largely unregulated skin trade also go beyond donkeys. We have discovered links between the trade and wildlife crime, with some traders offering donkey skins for sale on online platforms that are also selling illegal wildlife products, including ivory, pangolin scales and rhinoceros horn. Tiger skins are sometimes hidden under donkey skins.
How does the skin trade impact communities?
With such intense demand, skin traders are urged to find more donkeys, to pay more or to get a supply at any cost. The unrelenting demand means fewer donkeys appear at markets, and traders snap up those that do.
In 2016, we began receiving reports from across Africa of donkey-dependent communities waking up to find their donkeys stolen, slaughtered and skinned during the night.
Lives were wrecked and turned upside down. Families had no money to pay rent or buy food. If your donkey had been stolen, the price had been pushed up by as much as 300%, unaffordable to most.
How is The Donkey Sanctuary combatting the trade?
We have to show the terrible impact of the trade. Our first Under the Skin report, published in January 2017, alerted the world to the trade. We worked with in-country partners to pressure authorities to stop the slaughter of donkeys for the trade.
We have commissioned investigations and gathered case studies on the donkey skin trade's heartbreaking consequences on individuals and communities.
We have addressed parliamentarians in Brazil, Ethiopia and Nigeria, supporting efforts to protect national donkey populations.
We are working with colleagues in organisations like the Brooke, World Horse Welfare and The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad to become even more powerful voices for change.
We are using the courts to push for action where governments will not. We are using science to prove our concerns about biosecurity and the skin trade. We use satellite technology to monitor the donkey trade and show that even though it reaches worldwide, we can still see what it is doing.
We are also investigating the emerging technology of cellular agriculture and growing collagen in a laboratory artificially. Such technology would halt the donkey skin trade and stop the slaughter overnight and is something that we feel the industry, with all its ongoing supply problems, should take urgent and immediate steps to invest in.