“Donkeys may soon go extinct if they continue to be killed.”
Abubakar Ya’u, Nigerian sand-digger
China is on a quest to buy up the global supply of donkeys.
With a population of a whopping 1.4 billion – the largest of any country in the world and bigger than the populations of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Western Europe combined – the country of China is one gigantic gaping mouth sucking up commodities from every corner of the planet. And in no arena of global trade is this more true than with the trade in wildlife ‘products’, legal and illegal.
Traditional Chinese medicine is the villain of this story, not only for horribly cruel practices like extracting bile from captive bears, condemning the poor animals to a life of utter misery, but also for the tiger bones, pangolin scales, dried seahorse, antelope, buffalo and rhino horn, deer antlers, penises from all kinds of animal (tiger penis being the most sought after though illegal), dog testicles, and snake bile it swallows up in enormous and ever-increasing quantities.
In spite of the exaggerated claims, there is little evidence of the medical efficacy of these ‘products’. Rhino and other animal horn as well as pangolin scales for example, are made entirely of keratin, like our own fingernails. The makers of the ‘medicine’ might just as well use their own nail clippings.
In point of fact, we shouldn’t tar all TCM with the same brush. “Reputable TCM practitioners have explicitly distanced themselves from animal-based remedies. Animal penises, for one, do not help male performance, says TCM expert Chen Shilin, of the Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing. ‘It is merely a folk therapy,’ he says.”
But charlatans continue to cash in on the fortunes to be made from China’s folk superstitions.
And the effect on the world’s wildlife is devastating:-
- Tigers An estimated 1,000 killed for their body parts in the past 10 years to meet demands in Asia. Considering there are only 3,200 left in the world, this is desperately worrying. The illegal killing of the big cats places them high on IUCN’s Red List – status Endangered
- Pangolins have the unfortunate distinction of being the most illegally trafficked creature in the world, with over 1 million estimated to have been taken from the wild in the last 10 years. They too rank high on the Red List – Endangered
- Seahorses It’s estimated that 150 million are traded and sold every year. This is not sustainable – Red Listed as Vulnerable
- Rhinos 3 a day killed in 2016 in S. Africa alone. The Western Black rhino already extinct in the wild. White rhino on IUCN Red List – status Near Threatened
And now Donkeys???
Who would ever have considered donkeys at risk? But around the world they are in exponential decline. It’s simple economics, a question of supply and demand. With the increasing prosperity of the Chinese middle classes, demand keeps growing. As the supply of animal parts diminishes, the price for them rises. The poachers and illegal traffickers get better and better returns on their ‘goods’ and the incentive to supply intensifies – an upward spiral. For the animals though, the spiral is all down. We’ve seen it with tigers, rhino and pangolin. Now donkeys.
With the donkeys, it’s all about a substance called Ejiao, a highly-prized gelatin produced by rendering donkey hides. The industry in China is enormous. The Guardian describes it as “a global megabusiness. What was once a humble blood tonic for conditions like anemia – a claim supported by no clinical evidence – has been rebranded as a wellness product for China’s ascendant middle class, and now features in face creams, sweets and liqueurs, as well as a wide variety of medicinal preparations. There are claims it will help with anemia and acne, boost your energy, improve your sleep, nourish your yin, prevent cancer, make you look better and even improve your libido. It is billed, in short, as a miracle elixir.”
China produces 5,000 tons of ejiao a year, requiring a horrific 4 million donkey hides.
Such is the demand that China’s own donkey population has dropped 50% in 20 years, creating a vacuum that is sucking in donkeys from all over the world. “The explosion in demand had led to a surge in donkey thefts in Africa, Asia and South America.”
Donkeys in the continent of Africa are particularly hard hit. Countries in the south of the continent, unlike the north, have long had a culture of eating donkey flesh. That means the trading of donkeys from northern countries to the south is already well-established. Despite Niger, Botswana, Senegal, Mali, Burkino Faso and Gambia imposing restrictions on the donkey trade, and Zimbabwe and Ethiopia closing donkey abattoirs, these gentle creatures are still being covertly transported south. There they are slaughtered, the flesh taken and their hides shipped to China. There is simply too much money to be made for the illicit north-south trade to stop,
For those who rely upon their donkeys for their subsistence, like the sand-diggers of Nigeria, the temptation to sell their beasts of burden is powerful. Where 2 years ago you could buy a good strong donkey for 15,000-18,000 naira ($42-50), now such an animal fetches 70,000-75,000, a 5-fold increase. In 2 years. And one sand-digger by the name of Garba says he was offered 95,000 naira for his biggest donkey. He resisted the tantalising proposition, aware that his gain would only be short-term. If he did sell, it would be too expensive for him to get a replacement – it would cost him his living.
Others though, have sold, or had their donkeys stolen: “At a market in Ughelli, Delta State—the centre of the Nigerian donkey trade—hundreds of donkeys are crammed into pens under the burning sun as they await their fate. Some are skeletally thin, all are quiet.
“New animal pens are being made every month as the demand for donkey hides and meat is met with an steadily growing supply from the north.”
The only remotely good thing that can be said is that these unfortunate creatures are killed before being exported to China. This is what PETA has to say about what happens to live donkeys in that country.
“Our campaign against the live export of animals garnered new international media attention after a PETA exposé revealed the horrors of the Chinese donkey-gelatine industry. Right now, donkeys are being abused and killed so their skins can be boiled down to make gelatine for ejiao, a traditional Chinese “medicine”. The demand for ejiao is so high that the Australian government is considering facilitating the live export of donkeys to China! The gentle, sensitive animals would have to endure a harrowing journey to a Chinese facility where donkeys are hit with sledgehammers, their throats are slit, and they are skinned. PETA and our affiliates are working to prevent the live export of all animals and urging compassionate consumers never to buy products containing ejiao or other cruelly obtained ingredients.”
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