African donkeys threatened with extinction: export boom to China
The skin of the pack animal is used to produce ejiao, an elixir able to cure insomnia, chronic fatigue, anemia and boost libido. The donkey population in China has shrunk within a few years. In Africa it has halved in as many years. To produce 5,000 tons of ejiao (the annual requirement in China) 4 million skins are needed.
Nairobi (AsiaNews) - A tonic to treat insomnia, chronic fatigue and boost libido: produced in China, ejiao, is a jelly that is obtained from the donkey skin reduced to powder. No scientific study demonstrates its effectiveness, but the demand for this concoction has grown exponentially in recent years, so much so that the donkey in China risks extinction and in Africa the donkey skins have become a precious commodity.
In a report published by Le Monde, a Chinese pharmacist explains: "We use it to make a syrup called ejiao. With the gelatine that is found in the donkey's skin, we make a tonic that can remove all the ills such as anemia, dry cough or the consequences of menopause. But also insomnia or chronic fatigue. It is a medicine that we have been using in China for several years ".
About 5 million skins are needed to produce 5,000 tons of ejiao (consumed each year in China). In China, until a few years ago, there were 11 million donkeys. In 2016 there were only five million.
The growing demand for this medicine has halved the population of donkeys in China, which has had to supply leather and donkey meat from Africa: Niger, Burkina Faso have banned the export following the reduction of the specimens, used by farmers. Kenya, which maintains important commercial relations with China, has allowed the sale. Here, donkeys have gone from 1.8 million in 2008 to 900 thousand in 2017. The price of donkeys has risen up to 150 euros per head. A figure that local farmers can not afford.
The animal rights organization Donkey Sanctuary warns: at this pace donkeys in Africa could become extinct. The poachers, the organization informs, kill dozens of donkeys and skin them on the spot and then resell the skin to Chinese traders. The South Africa Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) explains that the animals are stolen by the farmers and then beaten to death with a hammer, and sometimes skinned alive.
The donkey skin market is an example of China's growing interest in Africa. In 2000, Sino-African trade was estimated at 10 billion dollars a year. Now it is close to 200 billion. In addition to donkey skin China also exports from the continent: oil from Angola and Nigeria, copper from the Congo, uranium from Namibia, bauxite from Guinea. China is omnipresent in Africa with manufacturing and with billionaire investments in dams, ports, railways, factories.
In this context, "we have great difficulty convincing the government of the need to preserve donkeys, to consider them as an endangered species," explains Kenneth Wameyo, general secretary of the Kenya Veterinary Association (KVA).
The Kenyan authorities highlight the economic benefits of this trade, in terms of tax revenue but also of local investments. For example, in the west of the country, the Mogotio slaughterhouse has invested about 5 million euros and has created more than one hundred jobs.