Motorbike-powered anti-poaching patrols and grassroots initiatives on the Tanzania-Kenya border have been successfully clamping down on the illegal trafficking of donkeys.

The Donkey Sanctuary supplied a grant to the Arusha Society for the Protection of Animals (ASPA) in Tanzania, which has funded motorbikes for border guards to conduct mobile patrols on known smuggling routes.

The ASPA launched the project after noting an alarming rise in donkey theft from Tanzania’s border communities. The trafficked donkeys were for use in the donkey skin trade. Donkeys all over the world are being traded and slaughtered for their skins for use in a traditional Chinese remedy called ejiao.

The high demand for skins has skyrocketed the value of donkeys, and donkey populations in some countries have been decimated. The situation has placed relentless pressure on donkey herds. As such, smugglers have resorted to stealing donkeys from communities in Tanzania, often crippling the families that rely on them to make a living.

ASPA also began a successful campaign to raise awareness among local communities of the dangers of the skin trade and demonstrated effective ways to take protective measures to keep their donkeys safe.

Simon Pope, Tactical Response Lead for The Donkey Sanctuary, says: “Donkey populations are under huge pressure all across Africa. Even remote rural areas are now being targeted for their donkeys.

“Being able to patrol by motorbike means we have created an effective deterrent to donkey smugglers, which we now hope to be able to replicate in other parts of Africa, where communities are being subjected to poaching and smuggling by donkey thieves.”

Motorbikes have helped clamp down on donkey thefts. Credit: ASPA.

Motorbikes have helped clamp down on donkey thefts. Credit: ASPA

Bikes at the borders

The Donkey Sanctuary’s collaboration with ASPA to clamp down on smuggling in Tanzania began in February 2020.

In September 2020, we provided ASPA with funds to assist with the crackdown of illegal cross-border movement of donkeys on the Tanzania-Kenya border as an extension of the project.

As part of the crackdown, ASPA had enlisted the support of security guards from Tanzania’s Reserve Army to defend donkeys in communities targeted by the thieves.

Thanks to funding from The Donkey Sanctuary, ASPA purchased motorbikes for the border guards, allowing them to make quicker and further patrols across routes widely used by donkey smugglers. The use of motorbikes and the support of The Donkey Sanctuary to protect these donkeys in Tanzania has drastically minimised the amount of smuggling now taking place across the country.

Power of the people

Alongside providing motorbikes to border guards, ASPA launched several grassroots initiatives, contacting the very communities who had been torn apart by this senseless smuggling.

ASPA began running a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of the skin trade and demonstrate effective ways to take protective measures to keep their donkeys safe. They also held several community forums discussing the importance of good welfare for donkeys and other livestock.

ASPA also educated villagers about the donkey population trends within zones affected by smuggling over the past three years. Communities provided their views and insights on the current movement of donkeys along the border and the operation of donkey abattoirs within Kenya and Tanzania.

These discussions revealed that donkey thefts were rampant across the Tanzanian communities because the victims weren’t reporting them. Villagers spoke of a lack of government support, especially at certain passages between the borders of Tanzania and Kenya, where smuggling was common. Government officials, who attended the village meetings, also admitted there was no official system to identify donkeys stolen from families.

These village meetings were held regularly, alongside various workshops aiming to educate on animal welfare. ASPA has lobbied police departments and local government leaders to upscale protection initiatives on border areas to help clamp down on the smuggling to Kenya.

The government response was positive – leaders provided valuable information to ASPA, detailing the common routes smugglers used along the borderline in the movement and trade of donkeys. The dignitaries assured ASPA that they would begin educating their societies on the impact of losing donkeys in the community and ban donkey smuggling and trade in Tanzania.

A spokesman for ASPA says: “The patrols and mobilisation have brought about many positive changes to communities owning and using donkeys in their life.

“The involvement of animal welfare stakeholders, animal welfare inspectors, and the police force has helped review the principles and laws of animals in Tanzania further in transportation.

“Going forward, we anticipate continuing with the border patrols as it has significantly helped reduce thefts.

“We will mostly involve the use of police officers for the community to report future theft cases.

“We need to bring the police closer to the community for friendship building and taking the cases of those caught to court, rather than solving them traditionally.”

Recovery and rescue

The impact of the year-long project has been the return of many stolen donkeys to their rightful owners. Thefts have now also been reduced to zero.

Communities are now aware of the dangers threatening their donkey population and are vigilant in protecting it.

Simon adds: “We will not stop in our efforts to ban the donkey skin trade in Tanzania, and will continue to campaign for the protection of these incredibly important animals.”

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