Saturday, October 07, 2017

Donkeys are being decimated for yet another Chinese health fad

Who would ever have thought that the humble, ubiquitous donkey could soon be at risk as a species. Now, we are not there yet, but if China has anything to do with it, it could well happen.
It seems that the Chinese have decided, for inscrutable reasons of the their own, that that the rest of the world would probably not understand, that a brown gelatine which is specifically made from donkey skins should be an essential ingredient in ejiao, a trendy "traditional medicine" and health food, as well as an ingredient in a popular line of instant puddings.
Well, such things are produced and eaten everywhere, you might say; it is just an occupational hazard of being a domesticated animal and an under-appreciated beast of burden. But so much demand for this product has been created in China that the local supply of these slow-to-reproduce animals has been decimated (even the Chinese admit that China's donkey population has fallen from about 11 million in 1990 to 3 million today). Demand for donkey skins is now estimated at as much as 10 million a year, which clearly can not be sourced locally. So, as they often do, the Chinese have turned to poverty-stricken Africa, particularly Kenya, to sate their strange predilections. 
The gelatine from boiled donkey skins can sell for up to $388 per kilo, a price that has doubled in the last few years. This is obviously good money for a poor African poacher. So, local farmers and delivery men are waking up to find their donkeys dead and skinned. Donkeys are an important part of African life, particularly in the poorer areas, and essential for transportation and farming. So, Chinese demand for a spurious health food is fuelling a worsening of African poverty and an increase in crime.
Just to make things worse, an increasing number of animal abuse and cruelty cases are coming to light, and donkeys waiting to be killed are often kept in appalling conditions. Supposedly, Chinese overseers are controlling the process, but there are many reports of donkeys being starved to death to make it easier to skin them, or bludgeoned to death in make-shift and unregulated abattoirs.
Several African countries - including Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal - have banned China from buying their donkey products, but the temptation to make a fast buck is insidious. New donkey skin operations are also being set up in places like Brazil and Peru.
Chinese traditional medicines are already responsible for a huge illegal international trade in rare and threatened species. Are donkeys about to join that list?

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