Every few years the Chinese fixate upon an animal and come to the conclusion that its parts will cure everything from acne to cancer. It doesn’t matter where the animal is; it could be the Totoaba, a fish found only in one lake in Mexico, which is almost totally decimated because the Chinese wanted its swim bladder. It could be the hair from the nose of a rhino (one species of the rhino has become completely extinct this year and there are a few hundred left of the other), the pancreas of the Indian bear, the pangolin whose scales are used by the Chinese to cure "excessive nervousness and hysterical crying in children, women possessed by devils and ogres, malarial fever and deafness". The Chinese have finished entire species in dozens of countries including India. India’s tiger and shark poaching is due to their greed for their parts. Africa’s elephants are almost gone and Australia loses millions of native birds to Chinese fetishes for keeping caged birds. Dried abalone, a status food that can sell for more than $90 per pound in China, forms the nucleus of a criminal economy worth millions each year in South Africa, with documented links to money laundering and the drug trade. There are virtually no animals left in their own country and their greedy, uncaring fingers pull out animals from the most environmentally conscious nations.
Now it is the turn of the donkey. Donkey hide gelatine, obtained by soaking and stewing the skin of a donkey, is used as a new ingredient in “old” Chinese medicine. It is called ejiao. The gelatine is sold in 3-4 inch rectangular or square blocks. It is hard and brittle, brown and shiny, translucent and slightly sweet – as dried glue is.
It is supposed to enrich the blood (whatever that means), strengthen bones, and cure dizziness, anaemia, palpitations, insomnia, cancer, and prevent miscarriages, stop bleeding and dry coughs, help the liver lung and kidneys, fatigue, chronic diarrhoea, phobias, obsessions, compulsions and excessive anxiety. The Chinese also eat donkey glue as a snack bar mixed with nuts and seeds. It's called Gu Yuan Gao. Ejiao is made into liqueurs. Put into creams it is used for leg ulcers or anti aging, rosy cheeks and glossy skin.
According to a 1723 account, by the French Jesuit Dominique Parrenin, ejiao was only made for the emperor’s court from the skin of a freshly killed well-nourished black donkey. Since black donkeys were, even then, in short supply a large amount of "fake" ejiao was also manufactured, using skins from mules, horses, camels, pigs, and even old shoes. Since what it was supposed to cure was equally vague, I am sure it worked well.
The earliest known historical record of ejiao gelatine is in the ancient Chinese medical document entitled Shen Nong's Materia Medica, made during the Qin (221 BC - 206 BC) and Han (206 BC - 220 AD) dynasties. In that document, ejiao is made from any animal skin. The Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China (the 1990, 1995 and 2000 editions), however, refer to donkey-hide gelatine as the only certified ejiao product. And businessmen picked this up. In the 1990s ejiao was rebranded as a consumer item and beauty product, causing sales — and demand for donkey skins — to skyrocket.
Millions of donkeys were immediately killed in China. Their population took a steep dive. Donkey hides became rare and expensive - up to £300 per kilo. There were also restrictions on importing animal hides from outside the country. So, first the manufacturers got the Chinese government to lift the restrictions. And then they went hunting across the world, starting with Mongolia, Afghanistan, Africa and South America.
In ten years donkey prices began to rise steeply around the world. African countries found they had no donkeys left. Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal have banned donkey exports to China. Has it stopped donkeys being killed? Nope. Donkey skins have become a hot commodity on the black market, and wildlife traffickers have moved in. Agents of the Chinese go from village to village, steal animals at night and strip their skins off on the spot. In November 2017, eyewitness footage showing baby donkeys being bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers, or killed by having their throats cut.
Has India escaped this illegal poaching? When was the last time you saw a donkey? At last count we were down by 40% of our donkeys – a massacre of over 3 million - in just the last two years. In fact, the wildlife mafia, that used to supply tiger skins and parts, has switched to donkeys. Sales of ejiao in China rose from 6.4 billion yuan in 2008 to 342.2 billion yuan in 2016. China's donkey population has dropped from 11m in 1990 to 1m today. At least 2-3 million donkey hides are brought into China every year . And their demand is 10 million skins.
With the decimation of the donkey, many rural communities in Africa and South America have lost their livelihoods for a product no one needs. The price of donkeys has risen steeply in some countries, making them unaffordable for people who use them to take goods to market, cultivate land, and fetch water. The cost of a donkey in Burkina Faso, for example, has increased from £60 in 2014 to £108 in 2016. In Niger, the price has climbed from $34 to $145. In Kenya, the prices are even higher.
Entire criminal mafias have emerged in many countries. Illegal, or “bush” slaughter, which frequently involves stolen donkeys, has been reported in Egypt, South Africa and Tanzania, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. The stolen donkeys are mostly working animals, which means their owners then have no transport and can't get to market, fetch water or get children to school. Africa has been badly hit because the animals are such an important part of life for transport and farming - particularly in poorer communities. Their steep cost makes it impossible for the owners to replace a stolen donkey. In Egypt, one of China’s main suppliers, the cost of buying a donkey has increased from £17 to £170.When Niger banned donkey skin export the Chinese moved to Nigeria where the prices have gone up from 15,000 Naira per donkey to 75,000 Naira.
Unfortunately, Kenya has started three large donkey slaughterhouses. While their own population is almost done (number of donkeys have fallen by 70% and is now about 5 lakh), donkeys are being smuggled in from countries that have banned their slaughter, or export of donkey hides – South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger (which lost 80,000 donkeys in just 9 months), for instance. A firm in Zimbabwe has been caught for buying thousands of illegal skins from Botswana and shipping them to China via Mozambique. Now Ethiopia, which had the largest population of donkeys in the world, has started slaughterhouses for the Chinese as well. Chinese buyers monitor the process in both countries - making sure everything is properly packed and prepared. Each donkey hide produces 1 kilo of ejiao.
The Chinese pay $48 per skin, making it very lucrative to break all the laws. South Africa allows the export of a maximum of 7,300 donkey skins a year. Yet, when the police investigated just one firm, they found they had exported 15,000 in less than a year. Firms in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon are openly advertising donkey skins – as well as pangolins whose international trade is forbidden. The Chinese buy both from the same firms.
Efforts are on by the Chinese to start donkey slaughterhouses in Pakistan and Australia.
Even though the Chinese know that most of these skins are from the black market, on January 1, 2017 the Chinese government brought down import duties on donkey hide from 5% to 2%. Dong EE-Jiao is the largest company in China and handled 7 lakh donkey hides in 2014, increasing to one million in 2018. Its profits were $295 million in 2016.
Ten years ago there were approximately 44 million donkeys spread over Asia, Africa and South America. Ten years from now , they will be down to less than a million. As of today, countries that have counted their donkeys report this : Botswana down by 70%. Kyrgyzstan and India, down by 40%, Columbia and Brazil down by 15%.
Why have the Chinese been allowed to carry out this genocide?
*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*