The Botswana government this week suspended export licenses for donkeys and their products.
Rural communities are at risk of being impoverished by “relentless” Chinese demand for donkey products such as meat and hides, which are stewed to produce gelatin, a key ingredient in the making of a prized Chinese traditional medicine called ejiao, a leading global donkey rights campaign group has warned.
Ejiao, also known as Colla corii asini or “donkey hide glue” is mixed with herbs to form gelatinous bars and pills or tonics that are used to treat insomnia, dizziness, nose-bleeding and dry coughs.
Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security spokesperson Geoffrey Pheko said the government had “noted with concern the indiscriminate and cruel slaughter of donkeys for their hides which are exported to markets in Asia.”
“In this regard, issuance of all export licenses relating to donkeys and their products for export purposes is suspended indefinitely with immediate effect,” said Pheko
Pheko urged farmers to “stay vigilant, keep a close eye on the donkeys and report any suspicious illegal trade on live donkey, donkey meat and donkey hides to the nearest government officials”.
Pheko called on farmers to brand and ear mark their donkeys for ease of identification.
Reports indicate that thousands of donkeys have been slaughtered in Botswana and in other developing countries in recent years and their skins sold to China.
Hooves also contain the supposedly medicinal gelatin, while the meat, consumed in parts of China, is believed to be more nutritious than beef and is enjoyed in burgers and stews.
Botswana is the sixth African country to impose restrictions on donkey exports, following Niger, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Gambia.
Zimbabwe turned down an application to build a donkey slaughterhouse, while Ethiopia closed its only functioning donkey abattoir after residents complained about the smell.
But the bans have led to a flourishing illegal trade in donkey meat and hides and caused prices to soar.
Farmers in Botswana have been urged to closely monitor their donkeys to prevent thefts as well as to report suspicious exchanges of live animals.
Animal rights groups say the docile “beasts of burden” are often cruelly bludgeoned to death before being skinned in backyards and clandestine slaughterhouses.
The industry is said to be worth billions of Dollars and China is increasingly looking to Africa to satisfy demand after its own donkey population dropped sharply.
Donkey numbers in China have nearly halved from 11 million in the 1990s to six million in 2013, according to official statistics.
Ejiao is also believed to have anti-ageing properties in addition to increasing libido, while reducing chances for the development of reproductive organ-related diseases in women.
In a new report entitled, Under The Skin, the London-based Donkey Sanctuary said donkey populations in sub-Saharan Africa ÔÇö including Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Niger, Egypt and Burkina Faso ÔÇö were being decimated at a shocking scale to meet increased Chinese demand.
“The global trading of donkey skins is now having an impact on donkey welfare and the livelihood of people around the world.
“Communities the world over risk being impoverished and losing their independence. Our report reveals the shocking scale of this global trade as it races to keep up with an ever-growing demand for the product. Donkey populations cannot continue to be decimated and communities must not be deprived of their only means of survival.
“Action must now be taken to curb this trade, in the interest of both animal and human welfare,” said Mike Baker, the CEO at Donkey Sanctuary.