A shocking undercover investigation in Southern Africa has strengthened calls for an immediate halt to the donkey skin trade with The Donkey Sanctuary describing it as “...lawless, unscrupulous and destroying peoples livelihoods.”
The respected organisation, Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism has lifted the lid on the skin trade in Botswana in the first of a series of undercover investigations carried out in collaboration with The Donkey Sanctuary. The Oxpeckers research has placed the increasingly unsustainable trade under a spotlight, where theft and poaching of donkeys is rife and where the escalating value of a donkey’s hide is placing a shrinking donkey population at ever-increasing risk.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s Under The Skin report, launched in January this year, was the first to reveal the extent of the donkey skin trade, which was driven by an escalating demand for the traditional Chinese remedy known as ejiao, made from the collagen in a donkey’s skin.
The charity has been campaigning for the unregulated trade to be halted because of the increasing threat that it poses to donkey welfare and donkey-dependent communities around the world.
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This undercover investigation, which can be read in full on - Oxpecker.org - is the first to reveal how the trade works and the huge sums that traders are making from it.
Alex Mayers, Head of Programmes at The Donkey Sanctuary said; “This is a shocking but highly revealing investigation into the trade and one which shows it is entirely out of control and has to stop. The animal welfare issues are almost beyond belief – donkeys that are starving to death, and enduring unimaginably stressful conditions.
"Alongside this are economic, criminal, environmental and social concerns which are fast becoming crises in themselves. It is lawless, unscrupulous and destroying people’s livelihoods. If unchecked, it will soon destabilise whole communities.”
Mike Baker, Chief Executive of The Donkey Sanctuary, added: "This report lifts the lid on the shocking amount of the trade that goes on out of sight – it is further evidence of why such urgent action is needed. We applaud the action taken by Governments in some countries to stop the trade, but where it continues illegally it must be enforced."
The scale of the animal welfare problem associated with the trade in Botswana was made clear in June 2017 when the authorities raided the Chinese-operated Bo Chang donkey abattoir near Francistown in Botswana. This facility was only opened in April 2017, but within two months was slaughtering 588 donkeys a month.
The raid discovered 452 starving and emaciated donkeys, with no food or water and penned up awaiting slaughter. The animals were so hungry they had eaten all the bark from the trees and even the fur from the backs of the other donkeys. Most of the animals were simply too weak or ill to survive and were put to sleep. Huge pits containing the rotting remains of hundreds of donkeys were also discovered, with the effluent from decomposing animals trickling into the main local river.
The Chinese operator of the abattoir was arrested and investigated for cruelty to animals, but was fined a nominal 50 Pula (£3.80). A senior police official working on the case was quoted as saying that it was a “bit complicated” owing to the large number of individuals involved in the trade.
The Oxpeckers investigation also uncovered evidence which suggests that despite Botswana’s recent ban on the export of donkey skin, the trade has gone underground – A truckload of 1,200 hides on its way to Zimbabwe was recently seized in Botswana.
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Find out more about The Donkey Sanctuary's Under The Skin report and what is being done to tackle the situation.