The Donkey: Africa’s Next Endangered Animal

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A farmer riding a donkey leaves his crops at an area of farms in the outskirts of Sokoto, Sokoto State, Nigeria on April 22, 2019. Luis TATO / AFP

When you think of endangered African animals threatened by poachers, donkeys typically do not come to mind. But the Nigerian government wants to change that by classifying the donkey as an animal that potentially faces “extinction” unless something is done soon.

Donkeys in Nigeria and across Africa are being stolen, or poached, at an alarming rate. The animals are slaughtered for their skins which are then used as a key ingredient to make ejiao (阿胶), a traditional Chinese medicine. And just as with more popular wildlife like rhinos, elephants, and lions, who are all hunted for their parts, there’s a vast criminal network behind the illicit Africa-Asia donkey skin trade.

”The spate of mounting demands for donkey skins has fostered a ravenous underground market for the product, resulting in a relentless open season on the donkey population.” — Chigozie Nwodo, director general of the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service

So, it refreshing to hear that the Nigerian government plans to step up its enforcement against poachers and do more to protect these animals that millions of subsistence farmers across the continent depend on. But so much more needs to be done.

Kenya’s brief experiment in building a donkey livestock industry failed but others should try to develop a viable business model. Raising donkeys for slaughter, just as is done with cows and other livestock, would undermine the traffickers, provide badly-needed employment in rural communities and help to address Africa’s unsustainable trade deficits with China.

There is no consumer awareness in China whatsoever about the impact that their consumption of ejiao is having on subsistence farmers, not just in Africa but around the world. The Chinese government has recently taken dramatic steps to enhance the protection of dogs, pangolins, and to ban the live animal trade.

Now, animal rights campaigners in China need to find a way to put donkeys on the agenda and to work with the traditional Chinese medicine industry to find a synthetic alternative for the hides that are causing so much pain for so many of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Written by

Managing Editor of The China Africa Project

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