The results of a shocking investigation by The Donkey Sanctuary reveals the devastating human impact of the growing demand for ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine made from donkey skin.
In the first comprehensive study of the trade, the charity has discovered that donkey-dependent families and communities all round the world are finding their animals stolen and brutally slaughtered for their skins, with some reports this week suggesting animals are being skinned alive.
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. In particular, illegal thefts have left entire donkey-dependent communities devastated and facing increased risk of poverty.
Mike Baker, CEO of The Donkey Sanctuary said: “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, 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.
“Our report reveals the shocking scale of this global trade as it races to keep up with an ever-growing demand for the product. Donkey populations cannot continue to be decimated and communities must not be deprived of their only means of survival. Action must now be taken to curb this trade, in the interest of both animal and human welfare.”
The report also uncovers the impact the trade is having on the value of donkeys. In Egypt the cost of buying a donkey has risen tenfold, which makes it almost impossible for victims of donkey theft to afford a replacement.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s ‘Under the Skin’ report will now be used as the authoritative tool to champion donkeys and their welfare on a global scale and has the following recommendations it will act on:
- The Donkey Sanctuary calls for a halt to the trade in donkey skins to produce ejiao until the impact of the trade can be assessed and shown to be both humane for donkeys and sustainable for the communities that depend on them.
- In particular, The Donkey Sanctuary urges other countries affected by this trade to follow the lead taken by Burkina Faso and Niger and ban the slaughter and export of donkeys for their skins.
- The Donkey Sanctuary urges governments and the industry to join us in raising public awareness about the impact of this trade so that ejiao consumers can make an informed choice.
- The Donkey Sanctuary calls on governments and local authorities to join efforts to support affected communities, protecting them from the illegal trade and preventing the decimation of donkeys through the legal trade.
The Donkey Sanctuary's international team is in contact with teams, organisations and projects who are seeing the effects of this problem first-hand. As we're the largest donkey charity in the world with so many projects and contacts, we are really well positioned to collect information and get a clearer picture of exactly what's happening and what patterns might emerge.
We are giving additional advice and support and where appropriate additional funds, for example funds have been given to a project in Tanzania to help build fences to keep secure donkeys that are at high risk of being stolen. The website and social media pages will be regularly updated with the latest information on what we're doing and what we've learnt about this situation.
WHAT CAN THE DONKEY SANCTUARY SUPPORTERS DO?
We need to raise public awareness of this urgent problem, not just with our UK supporters but worldwide. The report, key information about the problem and the latest news on what we're doing are on our website www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/under-the-skin and will be sent to the media and our partners, projects and collaborators worldwide.
We also have an Act Now page for people to click the Count On Us button to raise awareness of the needs of donkeys and their value to humanity. By clicking on this button and sharing the campaign, you will be standing with us on this issue and empowering our voice.
WHY DONKEY SKIN?
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 DONKEYS?
Millions of donkeys are at risk. The trade in donkey skins, both in its illegal and illegal forms, is resulting in a chain of welfare issues from sourcing to transport and finally slaughter. Donkeys caught up in the ejiao trade face specific challenges as the skin of an expensive animal generates the same amount of profit as that of a diseased or badly looked after animal which means that traders often see little value in maintaining good welfare conditions.
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.