13 May 2021

Seven facts about the donkey skin trade

1. The Donkey Skin Trade is a Worldwide problem

Until recently, Kenya was the epicentre of the trade, with up to 160,000 skins exported each year. Thanks to efforts from Brooke East Africa, this has been restricted in recent years. However, Brooke teams started monitoring and investigating the trade outside of Kenya and soon found that donkeys were being traded for their skins right across Africa, from Ethiopia in the East to Senegal in the West. 

Donkey skins have been sought outside of Africa too - Egypt increased its export in 2018, and reports from Pakistan suggest the government is looking to reverse its current ban on the trade.  Brazil opened up trade in 2017, but their goverment has put a ban on slaughter in place since February 2022. 

2. Donkeys are a lifeline for millions of people

In many poorer countries, donkeys are a common sight, pulling carts, carrying packs and ploughing fields. They help people reduce the burden of tasks such as transporting water over miles each day. They also enhance people’s ability to earn a living, helping families improve their health and educate their children.

3. Stolen donkeys ruin lives

The trade of course leads to the horrific mistreatment of donkeys. They can be transported in cramped conditions for days on end, and their treatment in slaughterhouses can be appalling. They can even be killed outside, without regulation, for the underground market. It also causes misery to people who have their donkeys stolen. In Kenya, we have had reports of thousands of donkeys being stolen. This loss can destroy a person’s livelihood and push them deeper into poverty.

4. Ejiao is big business

Demand continues to grow for ejiao, the Traditional Chinese Medicine that donkey skin is made into, and it’s now estimated to be at nearly five million skins per year. The companies who produce ejiao make millions from the product, pushing it as a long standing remedy for a number of different uses including, more recently, beauty products. The reality is that the product is a fairly recent innovation, and that there is no scientific evidence for its effectiveness. Consumers are being misled.

5. Donkeys can't be bred fast enough to keep up with demand

Part of the reason ejiao companies started to look for donkey populations outside of China is that the stocks of donkeys there had depleted. Breeding donkeys isn’t an option to meet demand, mainly because donkeys aren’t that fertile, and take a long time to give birth, with pregnancy typically lasting over a year. Also, the welfare risks are huge. It is very easy for donkeys to get injured through transport and the breeding process, so pushing for it on a large scale makes it even more risky. This is why breeding enough donkeys to satisfy demand for ejiao isn’t possible.

6. Donkeys aren't properly protected

Brooke has achieved a lot in recent years to get the contribution of donkeys recognised by international bodies such as the United Nations, but in national and international farming policies, they still don’t get as much attention as other animals like cows and pigs. Donkey numbers have dropped in the last few years, especially in Kenya. A report in 2019 predicted that donkeys could have been practically wiped out if trends continued, but as donkeys are domestic and not wild animals, they aren’t covered by CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

7. Donkey smuggling brings risks to animal and human health

The cross border smuggling of donkeys or their skins can have a huge health risk, and as COVID-19 has shown, the risk of diseases transmitting from animals to humans should not be ignored. Diseases that kill animals are also concerning. In 2019, Brooke witnessed an outbreak of equine flu in West Africa that killed 60,000 donkeys in Niger alone. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) believes that it was linked to illegal transport of donkeys across borders.