4 February 2022

Brooke uncovers India’s hidden skin trade problem

India’s donkey population has fallen by 61% since 2012, according to a study by Brooke India investigating the hidden presence of the donkey skin trade in the region.

Globally, hundreds of thousands of donkeys are slaughtered for their skins and exported to China every year to fulfil the growing demand for ejiao, a gelatin used in traditional Chinese medicine that is made by boiling down donkey skin. The trade is currently banned in India, along with the slaughter of donkeys for meat, but Brooke’s study has found evidence of a dark underbelly, decimating the Indian donkey population.

Brooke’s study, conducted by journalist Sharat K Verma, included field visits and interviews in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, as well as the Nepal border. Whilst increasing literacy rates, mechanisation at brick kilns, and a preference for horses and mules explained some of the decline, the study found further evidence for illegal activity.

At a donkey fair in Maharashtra, a trader revealed that a person from China had approached them previously to set up a deal to buy at least 200 donkeys a month, clarifying that they would only require the skin. Anecdotal evidence further confirms the presence of such deals as donkey owners report being approached by traders or buyers from a ‘far away land’ demanding donkeys.

In Andhra Pradesh, Brooke also found wide evidence of the illegal slaughtering of hundreds of donkeys every week for meat purposes, with some locals opting for the banned food due to the lower cost and perceived health benefits.

The study found an overall decline of 51.9% in the total population of horses, ponies, mules and donkeys. However, it is the fall of the donkey population which is causing concern as the global skin trade continues to impact donkeys across Africa and the Americas.

The study has now been submitted to Dr Praveen Malik, Commissioner, Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Government of India.