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.
In Italy alone almost 6,000 donkeys are now farmed for their milk, and this is dwarfed by the numbers in China, where it is reported millions are farmed for their skins to produce a medicinal gelatin (ejiao) that is traded as traditional Chinese medicine.
Over 2,000 years ago, this medicine was a preserve worthy of Emperors, seen to promote good health, long life and fertility. In modern days it is more promoted as a skin care product with beautifying effects – or a wonder product.
The demand for donkey skins looks to be substantial and extends beyond China, potentially posing an immediate threat to many donkey dependent communities in the world.
Donkeys are still a critical factor to livelihoods of some of the poorest communities worldwide, as among other roles they help with vital human-kind necessities like ferrying firewood, water and food.
The price of a working donkey has rocketed, sometimes by a factor of 10. For example, in Egypt, the price of a donkey has gone up from £17 (LE200) to £170 (LE2000) in just a few years. This makes them all but unaffordable to millions of the world’s poorest people who rely on them for their livelihoods.
The demand is also leading to huge shortfalls in the numbers of donkeys in countries that rely on donkey power – this has already led Burkino Faso and Niger to ban the export of donkey products.
Theft-for-slaughter is also an increasing problem. Alex Mayers, from The Donkey Sanctuary’s international team, says this issue has left whole villages without donkey-power literally overnight. “In areas like Simanjiro in Tanzania where donkeys bring water from wells to homes, a stolen donkey means almost all activities, including schooling, stop as people struggle to fill the gap left by the thieves.”
With increasing reports of donkeys being rounded up, stolen and even mass-farmed for slaughter, the potential suffering for donkeys in this emerging trade is difficult to imagine.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s chief executive Mike Baker says: “We’re all used to the concept of cattle, sheep, chickens and pigs being farmed in their billions – but donkeys? True, there has always been small scale, local consumption in some countries but what we’re starting to uncover is a worrying new trend. At a time when the suffering of animals farmed on a mass scale has never been clearer and when the unsustainability of industrialised livestock farming is helping to wreck both climate and communities, we shouldn’t be expanding the circle of species selected to suffer.”
The Donkey Sanctuary cannot endorse or support an industry which compromises the welfare of donkeys and is currently doing a comprehensive review on the trade in donkey meat and skin.