In recent years, high demand for traditional Chinese medicine, ejiao (pronounced uh-jee-ow), a gelatin made from boiled donkey skins, has severely affected the number of donkeys in Africa. 

According to AFP, donkeys in China alone can not meet the increasingly high demand for the huge ejiao market due to shrinking donkey herds. Ejiao producers now turn to other countries for donkey skins. Animal rights activists worried that the trend threatens the donkey population worldwide.

Many African countries face a significant decrease in the number of donkeys as China donkey traders sweep the continent for its skins. 

Donkeys play an important role in rural areas across Africa, where farmers often use donkeys for transporting and cultivating land and other essential farming works.

In Kenya, four Chinese-owned slaughterhouses were set up in 2016. These slaughterhouses killed an estimated more than 9,400 donkeys per day within the period from April 2016 to December 2018.

In South Africa, about 10,500 donkey hides are officially exported to China annually. However, the actual quantity might be much higher when adding unofficial numbers from smugglers.

Jesse Christelis, the co-founder of the Donkey Dairy, told AFP that “In South Africa, we have seen a rapid decline of the donkey population due to illegal slaughter to supply the Chinese skin trade.” 

The French news outlet cited data from the University of South Africa showing that the donkey population in South Africa declined from 210,000 in 1996 to about 146,000 in 2019.

Expert on livestock research from Kenya, Dr. Monicah Maichomo, told Devex, ​​”The donkey slaughter is causing a huge impact on livelihoods at the rural level.”

Due to high demand from China, the price of donkey skins has increased substantially over the years. 

Christelis said that five years ago, the price of a donkey was about 30 dollars in South Africa. Now the price is about 125 dollars each.

But it’s still a very good deal in China. Within five years, from 2010 to 2015, the price of a donkey hide in China increased five times, from 78 dollars to 405 dollars. Now the price is 1,160 dollars.  

According to an animal welfare group, Donkey Sanctuary, over 4.8 million donkeys are killed every year for their skins.

Donkey Sanctuary also reports that over 75,000 trafficked donkey skins have been seized in more than 80 cases from 2017 to 2022.

As ejiao high demand correlates with the decline in the donkey population, many countries have banned donkey exports. The Donkey Sanctuary report points out that donkey skins export and donkey slaughtered for skins were banned and restricted in nearly 20 countries, mostly from Africa.

Ejiao, the Chinese product behind the demand for donkey skins

Ejiao (pronounced uh-jee-ow) or donkey-hide gelatin is traditional Chinese medicine extracted from stewed donkey skins. 

Despite the lack of scientific evidence, ejiao is believed to be used for treating conditions such as bleeding or dizziness. It also offers blood-boosting and beauty and health benefits. 

Ejiao was once a royal health product of the ancient Chinese court and one of the Chinese medicines that has been used for thousands of years.

The China donkey market can only provide the ejiao industry with about 1.8 million skins. That means 3 million donkey skins must be supplied via the global skin trade. The industry has no alternative, leading to a global shortage crisis for donkeys.

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