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BY PATIENCE RADISOENG
China’s love for donkey meat and the hide – which is used in traditional Chinese medicine, is wrecking havoc across the globe including in Botswana.
Animal rights groups say the docile “beasts of burden” are often cruelly bludgeoned to death before being skinned in backyards and clandestine slaughterhouses.
This has resulted in a reduction in the number of donkeys world-wide.
To curb the decline in donkey population, Botswana’s animal protection organisations have since declared that there is need to put in place legislation for the protection of these domesticated animals.
“In order for any livestock industry to develop, especially where products are being exported, there has to be a legal and regulatory framework in which it can evolve but this framework does not exist in Botswana, as there is no law, regulation or official standard operating protocol developed for donkeys,” said the director and consultant veterinarian of Vetswana Botswana-Mark Bing.
Bing who was speaking at the just ended donkey skin trade conference held in the capital Gaborone also called on the Botswana government to consider enlisting donkeys in the branding Act. Such a move, Bing said, would require a change in regulations not law.
On animal cruelty, Bing said that chapter 37:02 of Cruelty to Animals Act (1936) is very old as the fines are a mere P50 each which the Police are usually unwilling to prosecute perpetrators for.
“The act is owned by the police who have other responsibilities and often lack the time, budget and resources to tackle animal cruelty or neglect and it is severely in need of review as Botswana is however a signatory to the OIE, so its welfare standards should apply, enforcement of animal welfare standards though has not really occurred.”
Donkeys are highly prized in China, especially for their hide which is used to manufacture traditional Chinese medicines.
In 2017 Botswana became the sixth African country to impose restrictions on donkey exports, following Niger, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Gambia. At the time, neighbouring Zimbabwe turned down an application to build a donkey slaughterhouse, while Ethiopia closed its only functioning donkey abattoir after residents complained about the smell. The bans have however led to a flourishing illegal trade in donkey meat and hides and caused prices to soar.
Principal veterinary officer from Maun-Wave Kaschweeka says it is becoming clear that wildlife traffickers are also taking advantage of the skins trade as possibility of concealing ivory, pangolin products and rhino horn within skin consignments and even drugs and firearms.
Kaschweeka agrees that there should be tight regulations on the trade of donkey and its products (verification of ownership, licensed slaughter and sale).
"Botswana does not have a legal statute now as we speak on how to monitor the donkeys, when you talk of a rhino horn and an elephant tusk you already know that those have well-stipulated laws that help protect those animals, but for donkey skins now we don't have legal statutes that really specify to the issues of donkeys," says Kaschweeka.
Meanwhile a village elder from Maun-Nonofo Galebotswe stated that even though the donkey industry has a great potential of creating jobs in rural areas the donkey industry is continuously being neglected compared to other livestock species like cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry industries.
He stated that the value that is tied to the donkey in African traditions is not good like in Setswana if one is called "Tonki" (you are a donkey) one would feel offended and in English it is called that it a beast of burden, which means it carries all the burdens.
“People undermine me when I am among donkeys but personally I won’t mind donkeys as bride price for my children as they are equally useful as a cow and can be traded for cash,” said Galebotswe.