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What is ejiao?

Ejiao on sale in China
Photograph: Courtesy of George Knowles. Copyright, all rights reserved.

Research underway by The Donkey Sanctuary is revealing a worrying trend in the growing trade and demand of donkey meat and skins, and its potential effects to global donkey populations and their welfare. It is reported that in China, millions of donkeys are farmed for their skins to produce a medicinal gelatin (ejiao). The global trading of donkey skins is now having an impact on donkey welfare and the livelihood of people around the world.

Why donkey skins?

The donkey skins are being used to make gelatin for a product called ejiao a product that has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

What is ejiao?

Ejiao (said: eh-gee-yow) is a hard gel which can be dissolved in hot water or alcohol to be used in food or drink or it is used in beauty products such as face creams. Ejiao is believed to improve blood circulation so is used as a blood tonic by people with anaemia, low blood cell counts or reproductive problems.

Why are we hearing about this now?

The demand for ejiao has dramatically increased in the last few years. There used to be around 11 million donkeys in China but the number has dropped to 6 million in the last 20 years. Donkeys and donkey skins are now being transported from other countries, including Africa. Most of these are being bought and sold by dealers but a significant number of donkeys are also being stolen from their owners.

What does this mean for donkey owners?

The stolen donkeys are mostly working animals, which means the owners then have no transport so can't get to market or fetch water or get children to school. The trade in skins means that the value of donkeys has risen dramatically, which makes theft more likely but also makes it much more difficult for owners to be able to afford to replace a stolen donkey. In Egypt, the cost of buying a donkey has increased from £17 to £170.

I've seen news reports of 10,000 donkeys going from Egypt to China - is this happening?

There were many news reports and petitions about 10,000 donkeys in Egypt being transported to China. Our project partners ESPWWA who are in Egypt met with the government vets and have confirmed that this is not happening.

What can I do?

Our full ‘Under The Skin’ report about donkeys and the effects of the ejiao industry was launched earlier this year and we are calling on supporters to add their voice to our recommendations..

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