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Killing for 'Medicine': Rise in China's Demand for Donkey Skin Threatens Local Livelihood

Apr 10, 2017 06:30 AM EDT

Donkeys are not the only species threatened by China's growing demand for medicinal ingredient.

According to an investigation recently carried out by The Donkey Sanctuary, the illegal donkey trade, which has led to the slaughter of millions of donkeys in Africa, is also threatening the survival of locals.

READ: Is Donkey Skin the New Ivory? African Donkeys are Being Slaughtered to Extinction

As mentioned by the investigative report, people in South Africa have been complaining about their donkeys being stolen. For years, donkeys have been the hottest commodity in Africa. These docile beasts are used for farming, transport, food and warfare.

Speaking with AFP, Ikgopeleng Tsietsoane, a 25-year-old donkey owner, said, "Jobs are scarce here, and donkeys are our source of income, if you own donkeys you can work for yourself."

"The theft is taking away our livelihood. If nothing is done, this village will soon have no donkeys left," he lamented, mentioning that in October last year, six of his donkeys were stolen and the thieves were never found.

Why are donkeys being stolen from the villagers?

Donkey's skin and hooves contain gelatin that is used to create a Chinese medicine to treat anemia and menopause-linked ailments. Chinese refer to it as "ejiao." Because China does not have enough donkeys to supply the demand of the medicine patronizers, they resort to exporting them from countries that are rich in donkeys.

High demand means higher prices

Demand for donkey is pushing up prices, which could have a shattering impact on the people who depend on them.

The Guardian reported that in Niger, the price of donkeys has risen from $34 to $147. Obviously, the locals do not have the cash to purchase the donkeys at this kind of price, leaving them without jobs and fearing for their lives.

China produces 5,000 tons of ejiao each year, requiring some 4 million hides. The number excludes the people who obtain donkey hides illegally.

Daily maverick notes that Burkina Faso, Niger and Ougadougou have already banned exporting donkeys. However, other countries in Africa have legalized donkey trade despite its implications.

Ethiopia, with the continent's largest donkey population of 7.4 million, has built two large-scale, Chinese-owned slaughterhouses. While last year, a $3 million donkey abattoir in Baringo county, northwest of Nairobi, has been approved by officials, Quartz reported.

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