Research by The Donkey Sanctuary is continuing to reveal the staggering scale and demand for donkey meat and skins, and its threat to the global donkey populations and their welfare. In Italy alone almost 6,000 donkeys are now farmed for their milk, but this is dwarfed by the numbers in China, where millions are farmed for their skins to produce a medicinal gelatin (ejiao) that is traded as traditional Chinese medicine. Over 2,000 years ago, this medicine was a preserve worthy of Emperors, seen to promote good health, long life and fertility. In modern days it is more promoted as a skin care product that preserves youth and beauty and this has resulted in demand far outstripping supply.
As a result, the demand for donkey skins has become insatiable and businessmen and traders have looked for sources of donkeys far beyond China’s borders, posing a real and immediate threat to many donkey-dependent communities around the world.
Donkeys still play a critical role supporting livelihoods in some of the poorest communities worldwide. Among other roles they help with vital human-kind necessities like ferrying firewood, water and food.
The huge demand has meant that the price of a working donkey has rocketed, sometimes by a factor of 10. For example, in Egypt, the price of a donkey has gone up from £17 (LE200) to £170 (LE2000) in just a few years. This makes them all but unaffordable to millions of the world’s poorest people who rely on them for their livelihoods.
The demand is also leading to huge shortfalls in the numbers of donkeys in countries that rely on donkey power – this has already led Burkina Faso and Niger to ban the export of donkey products.
We’re all used to the concept
of cattle, sheep, chickens and
pigs being farmed in their
billions - but donkeys?
Theft-for-slaughter is also an increasing problem. Alex Mayers, from The Donkey Sanctuary’s international team, says this issue has left whole villages without donkey-power literally overnight. “In areas like Simanjiro in Tanzania where donkeys bring water from wells to homes, a stolen donkey means almost all activities, including schooling, stop as people struggle to fill the gap left by the thieves.”
In Tanzania, people are on their guard and The Donkey Sanctuary are funding the construction of security fences to protect their remaining donkeys.
Johnson Lyimo, founder and director of the Meru Animal Welfare Organisation (MAWO) in Tanzania, says: "This has badly affected Maasai villages in the last few weeks with the killing of large numbers of donkeys for their skin. First 70 donkeys were discovered dead in the village of Ngage then in nearby Naberera village 24 more animals were slaughtered in the same way a few weeks later.