18 February 2020

Chinese company looks to treat coronavirus with donkey skin product

Brooke warns of increased contamination as Chinese company looks to treat coronavirus with traditional medicine made from donkey skins.

Credit: Freya Dowson

Traditional Chinese medicine manufacturer Dong-E-E-Jiao is reported to have donated over £100,000 worth of ‘Ejiao’ to several Chinese hospitals in a bid to treat and prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, officially named COVID - 19. The medicine, which is not proven to have any positive effect in tackling the virus, is made from gelatine found within donkey skins. International horse and donkey charity Brooke is issuing a stark warning about the risks of further spreading of viruses as skins are transported from Africa, Asia and South America.

The donation of Ejiao to Chinese hospitals, reported by ‘Ejiao World’ on Chinese social app WeChat, raises concerns about a trade which already has glaring animal welfare issues and risks of disease spreading. Whilst the Chinese government has announced a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals and the closure of all wildlife markets across the country, donkey skins continue to be exported to the country at a high rate.

Over the last decade, there’s been a large increase in demand for Ejiao within medicinal and beauty products and this has had a devastating knock-on effect for global donkey populations. Kenya has been hit the hardest, but it is a crisis across the continent.

Conditions within the legal donkey skin trade still regularly contravene the international OIE standards for humane slaughter and transport of animals. The illegal trade poses even greater welfare risks with donkeys transported for days without food or water. Methods of illegal slaughter are completely inhumane and also pose huge human health risks with donkey carcases not being disposed of correctly, which is a public health concern.

Laura Skippen, Brooke Veterinary Advisor

The trade of donkey skins has been linked to the spread of disease before. In early 2019, equine influenza affected donkeys across seven West African countries, with up to 62,000 animals dying in Niger alone. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) suggested the outbreak may have been a consequence of the unregulated global movement and trading of donkeys for their skins. Brooke has also voiced fears for the spread of zoonotic diseases such as Anthrax – which can pass between animals and humans.

Some countries, such as Senegal and Uganda, have responded by banning the export of donkey skins, but others, including Kenya, have kept the trade legal, meaning donkeys are being smuggled from neighbouring countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania. All this is leading to a sharp decline in donkey populations and a catastrophic effect on communities. An estimated 10 million people in Kenya rely on their donkeys to support their livelihoods. Research commissioned by Brooke in 2018 found that even though the trade offers short term financial benefits to farmers, the loss of a donkey makes them vulnerable to poverty in the long term. Women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.

Brooke is calling for a global ban on the trade of donkey skins and a crackdown on cross-border smuggling of donkeys for their skins.

For more information and to download Brooke’s policy brief on the donkey skin trade, go to thebrooke.org/donkeycrisis