Rising demand for a traditional Chinese medicine is putting the donkey population in Kenya and other parts of Africa at risk. A product called ‘ejiao’ made from boiled donkey skins mixed with herbs and other ingredients is driving the demand, putting millions of donkeys at risk of poaching and slaughter.
Statistics put the numbers of donkey deaths to satisfy the market needs at between four and 10 million though more precise numbers are unclear as the trade is difficult to track and has never before been studied at a large-scale.
However, farmers who rely on donkeys as beasts of burden and modes of transport want the government to stop the slaughter of the animals for meat, saying poachers use this loophole to target the animal for its skin.
David Nkoroi, a resident of Gataka area of Ongata Rongai who said he lost a donkey to the thieves last week, expressed concern that families banking on the animals for their livelihood were being financially crippled.
He said this was the second donkey he has lost in recent times. He had been using the animals to transport and sell water to Gataka area residents, earning himself close to Sh50,000 every month.
“This has really affected me economically because I used to make six trips daily transporting 30 litres of water out of which I made about Sh2,000 on a good day,” he said. Rising trade in donkey hide is attributed to gelatin, a key ingredient of one of China’s favourite traditional remedies, known as ‘ejiao’.
Traditional herbalists in China believe that the medicine can be used for building muscular bodies, anti-aging, enhancing sex drive, improving blood deficiency, cosmetics and for curing irritating dry coughs.
Research finding by Brooke East Africa, an animal welfare organisation, on increasing cases of donkey theft reveals 37 per cent of those interviewed had lost a donkey in the six-month preceding the study while 88.2 per cent, reportedly knew someone in the community who lost a donkey in the six months preceding the rapid assessment survey.
“Close to 53 per cent of those who lost animals believed they had been stolen for slaughter,” the firm says in a report. Chinese medical documents claim, ejiao also moistens lungs, treats yin deficiency, cures dizziness, insomnia and palpitation.
The product is also said to prevent cancer and acts as a supplementary medicine for patients who receive radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Such is the huge demand for donkey skin that it is now among the most sought-after animal products not only in China but also Kenya. This has led to a spike in demand with recent reports indicating the cost of a mature male donkey has reached Sh20,000 from less than 10,000 a few months ago.