The African Union is trying to implement a ban on the export of donkeys (Pixabay) (social networking sites)

The African Union has banned exports of donkey skins this month in the hope that their number will increase again after it declined at alarming rates due to the growing Chinese demand for it to extract gelatin and turn it into traditional medicines, popular sweets and beauty products in the world’s second largest economy, according to the American New York Times.

Rural families across Africa depend on donkeys for transportation and agriculture.

The newspaper quoted Emmanuel Sarr, who heads the West Africa regional office of the non-governmental organization “Brook,” which works to protect donkeys and horses, as saying: “The means of survival in Africa is fueling the demand for luxury products from the middle class in China. This cannot continue.” .

China is the main trading partner for many African countries, but in recent years its companies have come under increasing criticism for depleting the continent's natural resources, from minerals to fish and now donkey skins, a criticism that has been affecting Western countries.

“This trade undermines mutual development talks between China and African countries,” said Lauren Johnston, an expert on China-Africa relations and associate professor at the University of Sydney.

Government pressure

Some Chinese companies or local middlemen buy the donkeys and slaughter them legally, but government officials have closed the clandestine slaughterhouses.

Rural communities in some African countries have reported increased cases of donkey theft, although there are no estimates of the extent of illegal trade.

Ethiopia contains the largest number of donkeys among the countries of the African continent, according to the British Donkey Sanctuary group, which is concerned with the rights of donkeys.

During a research trip to Ethiopia in 2017, Johnston said many local residents shared their anger at China for killing their donkeys.

China's donkey skin trade is a key component of a multi-billion-dollar industry for what the Chinese call "ejiao," or donkey gelatin, a traditional medicine recognized by China's health authorities, but its actual benefits are still debated among doctors and researchers in China.

The numbers of donkeys have decreased sharply in Africa (Al Jazeera)

Popular product

In recent years, Ejiao products have become increasingly popular as incomes rise among China's middle and upper classes, after it was once a luxury product, according to the American newspaper.

Traditional Chinese medicine and health food companies have marketed Ejiao as having potential benefits for people with circulatory, gynecological or respiratory problems.

Ejiao-based food products have boomed, with pastries made from ejiao, walnuts, sesame and sugar becoming a popular snack across China, and a popular tea beverage brand targeting young consumers with ejiao milk tea.

China's ejiao industry now consumes between 4 million and 6 million donkey skins each year, about 10% of the world's donkey population, according to Chinese news reports and Donkey Sanctuary estimates.

China used to obtain ejiao from China's donkeys, but its herd declined by more than 9 million in 2000, to just over 1.7 million in 2022, pushing it to Africa, home to 60% of the world's donkeys, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. of the United Nations (FAO).

Donkeys are characterized by their high resistance to harsh climatic conditions, and they can carry heavy weights for a long period of time, which makes them a valuable resource in some areas in Africa. Unlike four-legged mammals, they are very slow to reproduce, and efforts to raise the level of donkey breeding to levels have shown Industrial applications, including in China, have had limited success.

Sharp decline

The number of donkeys in some countries declined sharply and suddenly, and their number in Kenya fell by about half from 2009 to 2019, according to research conducted by Brooke, while a third of donkeys disappeared in Botswana in recent years, and Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and other countries witnessed a decline in their stocks at a high rate. .

Some African countries, such as Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Tanzania, have banned donkey skin exports, but porous borders and lax enforcement of fines have made it difficult to stop this trade. For example, in West Africa, donkeys are smuggled from landlocked countries before being slaughtered in regions Borders with countries that have access to the sea, so that the skins are then exported through shipping ports.

“Smugglers are looking for exit routes, such as ports, which we must fight to keep closed,” said Vessaly Kalou, head of veterinary services in Ivory Coast, West Africa.

Some countries where the export of donkey skins is legal are used to smuggle protected items such as elephant ivory, rhino horn or pangolin scales, according to an investigation by Donkey Sanctuary.

Governments have also faced pressure from farmers who raise donkeys and those who reap large profits from the trade in their skins. Botswana banned the export of donkey products in 2017, but backed down a year later as a result of pressure from farmers, and instead set export quotas.

According to the newspaper, it is not yet clear how the continent-wide ban can help save donkeys, as its countries must implement it through national legislation, a process that will take years, and national law enforcement agencies may not have the resources or will necessary to address trafficking. Illicit donkey skins.

The newspaper quoted Mwenda Mbaka, a prominent Kenyan expert in the field of animal welfare and a member of the African Union Animal Resources Commission, as saying that some African countries, such as Eritrea and South Africa, have long been reluctant to adopt the ban, arguing that they have the right to decide how Using its natural resources, adding that the decline in the number of donkeys has reached crisis levels.

Source: American press