Maasai villages in Tanzania are fighting back after nearly a hundred donkeys used for essential tasks like carrying water were killed in recent weeks to meet ever increasing demand for ejiao - donkey gelatin used in traditional medicine and cosmetics in parts of Asia. In Tanzania donkeys perform fundamental tasks like taking children to school and carrying goods to and from market - without them villages struggle to function. With funding from The Donkey Sanctuary, locally based Meru Animal Welfare Organisation (MAWO) is building 10 security pens to protect donkeys at night - the time when they are most vulnerable to killer thieves.
The pens are built with living trees that continue growing once in the ground, which keeps the structure strong and provides additional protection with branches and roots. The Maasai use a similar technique to protect cattle from predators like lions and hyenas.
“The donkeys fetch water early in the morning and in the afternoon they go for grazing or other jobs like carrying goods to market, carrying firewood or harvesting if it’s time for harvesting,” MAWO founder and director Johnson Lyimo says. The donkeys get extra feed in the shelter after they are secured for the night.
During the day MAWO work with villagers to strengthen the Donkey Security Network - a kind of Neighbourhood Watch which helps track donkeys and prevents them from being transported without permission. At night villagers can relax knowing their donkeys are safely secured in the pens, but with demand for ejiao dramatically pushing up the price of donkeys, especially in places where they are the backbone of a community, people remain on their guard.
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.