Traders have been prevented from targeting the world’s largest donkey population thanks to a move by the Ethiopian government, which will also safeguard the livelihoods of millions of Ethiopia’s poorest people who depend on them.
Ethiopia’s 7.4 million donkeys have increasingly been the focus of attention for businessmen eager to fulfil a growing demand for donkey skins, which are used in a traditional Chinese medical and cosmetic remedy called ejiao. The trade, estimated to be 1.8 million skins globally, is placing at risk donkey populations all round the world but with its huge donkey population, Ethiopia was under particular threat.
The Ethiopian government’s move has been warmly received by The Donkey Sanctuary, which has been campaigning for countries to follow the lead taken by Niger and Burkina Faso to ban the trade and export of donkey skins. Its “Under the Skin” report, launched in January this year, revealed how donkey populations around the world are being decimated by both a legal and illegal trade in donkey skins, with African countries being primary targets. Dozens of reports about cruel and illegal methods of killing donkeys for the trade have been received by The Donkey Sanctuary, revealing that some of the animals have been stolen or poached, poisoned, clubbed to death and even skinned alive.
The Donkey Sanctuary CEO Mike Baker said; “Huge numbers of donkeys could be saved from suffering by this welcome decision. It is good news for the people of Ethiopia too. In Ethiopia there is a saying among farmers that ‘Without a donkey, you are the donkey’. Without these incredible animals, the load of carrying goods, fuel, water and everything the community needs is shouldered by people, often women and children. The Ethiopian government’s decisive action will prevent suffering of both animals and people. We congratulate them and urge other nations to follow their lead.”
Dr Bojia Endebu, Country Manager of The Donkey Sanctuary’s operations in Ethiopia welcomed the move; “This news is a big relief to us all. Donkeys are central to Ethiopia’s agriculture and economy and the decision speaks volumes that the government values donkeys in its society; and that they have listened to their people.
“This ban has come about because of public outcry. When the local donkey owning community learned of an abattoir opening in Debre Zeit (Bishoftu) to kill donkeys for their skin; they strongly opposed. When the abattoir tried to reopen in March, they knew they were not being listened to and began to talk – among themselves and to the media saying it is ‘against our culture, against our religion, against our community’. This prompted pressure on the government who listened and acted, closing the abattoir three weeks after it was back up and running. The outcome was praised by media and was a catalyst to the government banning the trade nationwide.”
Chinese businesses have invested heavily in Ethiopia in anticipation of open access to its huge donkey population, funding the construction of at least two large abattoirs which were due to process 200 donkeys every day.
One of these, at Debre Zeit (Bishoftu) near Addis Ababa was closed down by the local authorities on Sunday following protest from local communities. The local authority said that the killing of donkeys was against the “norms and culture of the people”. Another donkey abattoir is being constructed by Chinese investors in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.
News reports suggest that the biggest Chinese ejiao production company Shandong Dong-e invested 80 million Birr (£2,722,192.60) in the facility and may now take the Ethiopian government to court over their decision. There are estimates of 1.8 million donkey skins being traded globally each year, but other estimates suggest demand as being between 4 and 10 million skins annually.
Ethiopia now joins Mali, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, The Gambia and Zimbabwe in standing up to the trade. Given they now have the largest population of donkeys in the world, this is a significant step forward for the welfare of millions of donkeys globally.
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