Across Africa, millions of donkeys risk a grim death to feed the growing demand for a traditional Chinese product called ‘ejiao’.
The gelatinous substance, made from boiling the hides of donkeys, often finds its way into beauty products which sell for up to £300 a kilo in China – but behind the luxury lies a dark and violent story, with countless working donkeys stolen, bludgeoned and starved to death.
It’s a terrible fate for many hardworking donkeys, which are the economic backbone of some of Africa’s poorest communities…
Despite this horrifying practice, new research from SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) has revealed that people in the UK are largely unaware of the dangers that donkeys are facing. Only 5% believe that the animal is at risk of population decline, whereas animals such as elephants (54%) and tigers (52%) are acknowledged to be at risk of deterioration.
With increasing affluence and an ageing population, demand for ejiao in China has increased rapidly and led to a dramatic fall in the country’s donkey population. Ejiao manufacturers have now begun to look to Africa to meet the growing demand for donkey skins, although 88% of people in the UK are not aware that donkey skins are being exported to China from Africa for use in traditional Chinese medicine and cosmetics.
Across Africa, millions of donkeys are used by some of the world’s poorest communities in place of motorised transport. Working animals like these are essential to the livelihoods of around one billion of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people.
The price of donkey hides has risen eight to 10 fold in the past years in some countries, making donkey ownership unaffordable for many and devastating communities. However, research by SPANA shows that only 2% of people in the UK realise that the price of donkey skins is on the rise.
High prices are also fuelling an epidemic of crime, as donkeys are stolen from poor families to be slaughtered, often brutally and inhumanely, for the ejiao industry.
An increasing number of countries across Africa are banning the export of donkey products. But, even where bans on the export of donkey products exist, the illicit trade often remains a serious concern. Donkeys may face especially barbaric treatment in the illegal trade.
Geoffrey Dennis, Chief Executive of SPANA, has seen for himself the impact of the ejiao trade across Africa and is leading a campaign to halt the export of donkey skins:
“From Mali to Zimbabwe, I’ve seen the devastation caused by this brutal trade, which is destroying livelihoods, undermining communities and leading to the slaughter of countless animals that are often kept in hellish conditions.
“A billion of the world’s poorest people rely on working animals for their livelihoods - yet this trade, driven by luxury consumer demand, threatens to dramatically reduce or wipe out all donkeys in many communities across Africa within the next decade.
Working alongside international and local NGOs, SPANA is calling for an immediate halt to the ejiao trade while its impact is assessed.
SPANA is working with governments to put in place national bans on the export of donkey products. The trade has already been banned in many of the countries in which the charity works. UK residents can help SPANA by raising awareness and by supporting their work directly.