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Donkey skin trade
Photograph: The Donkey Sanctuary. Copyright, all rights reserved.

For centuries, Chinese physicians have praised the medicinal benefits of ejiao - a gelatinous bar, pill or tonic that’s key ingredient is donkey gelatin. As the demand for donkey skins has grown dramatically, donkey populations the world over are being decimated and communities are being deprived of their only means of survival.

Skin trade round-up part one

It’s not been long since we published our report Under the Skin and the work to help donkeys and their communities has only just begun.

Alex Mayers, Programme Manager, visited Tanzania, where he and Dr Thomas Kahema, founder of The Tanzanian Animal Welfare Society (TAWESO), visited a donkey market believed to be serving the skin trade. During an emotional video, Alex described horrendous conditions for these donkeys as they waited to die.

During Alex and Thomas’s visit, the government released a circular to stop issuing permits to transport donkeys to the market from any part of the country which is a promising sign that the government is listening.

Charity calls for halt to skin trade

The results of a shocking investigation by The Donkey Sanctuary today reveals mass-scale suffering of donkeys caught up in global trading of their skins to sustain the demand for ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine that relies on gelatin from the hides.

In the first comprehensive study of the trade, the charity has discovered that as many as 10 million donkeys are at risk and it now calls for an immediate halt to the trade until it can be proven to be sustainable and humane.

The Donkey Sanctuary’s ‘Under the Skin’ investigative report reveals that the trade has led to an explosion in the number of donkeys in Africa, Asia and South America being sourced, stolen and slaughtered for their skins which are then destined for China.

Donkeys wait for death at Tanzanian market

At a market in Dodoma, Tanzania, hundreds of donkeys crammed into pens under the burning midday sun wait for their fate. Some are skeletally thin but all are withdrawn and quiet. A short walk away a pile of carcasses smoulders under a layer of sawdust. The market was set up to serve ever-growing demand for ejiao – a traditional Chinese medicine made with gelatin extracted from donkey skin. Whether they wait days or weeks, most of the donkeys here will end up at an abattoir where they will be slaughtered for their skins.

“The market is far worse than I expected,” says Alex Mayers, Programme Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, speaking from the market just last week. “There are about 700 donkeys basically coming here to wait to die. There’s no food or water. The donkeys are very stressed. There are lots of signs of dehydration and hunger.”

Feeling the impact of the donkey skins trade

Can you imagine what it must be like to wake up one morning and find that every car in your town or village has been stripped of its engine and wheels?

No vehicles – no means of transport for you or anyone in your community. All those journeys we take for granted – the school run, getting to work every day, the food shop – suddenly becoming arduous or impossible tasks.

Recently, in a rural community in Tanzania, this is exactly what happened – only the precious vehicles weren’t cars, but donkeys. The villagers woke up to find all 24 of their hardworking animals had been stolen, killed and stripped of their skins overnight. A devastating blow for the community and a horrific way for these hard-working donkeys to die.

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