Trade in donkey skins still unpopular in East Africa

What you need to know:

  • Donkey skins are valuable, but the region's traditional keepers are opposed to any form of selling because the animals are essential to their livelihoods

Arusha. Despite significant benefits, trade in donkey skins remains unpopular and controversial in East Africa due to concerns that the animal population may reach a dangerously low level.

Traditional donkey keepers in the region are opposed to any type of trading since donkeys are vital to their livelihoods.

Their concerns originate from increased smuggling of their animals due to increased demand for donkey skins in international markets.

In China, considered the main market, donkey hides are processed to extract gelatin, a main ingredient for making Chinese medicine.

A recent survey by an East African Community (EAC) organ indicated that the region was not ready for massive slaughtering of donkeys and unregulated trade of the same.

“If current rates of donkey slaughter continue, the impact on donkey populations might be severe,” said a report by the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).

Millions of East Africans rely on donkeys for a living. The vulnerable communities may now become victims of the worldwide skin trade.

Renewed fears on the donkey skin trade followed a recent survey by Eala members to areas within the region where the animal is reared.

The legislators argued vehemently that donkeys should not be treated as simply beasts of burden, yet it is crucial for their livelihoods.”

Instead of wooing investors to establish slaughter houses for donkeys, the EAC should increase investments in donkey breeding programmes.

The study presented before the recent Eala assembly here stated that breeding programmes will halt the loss of the animal population.

Even in the event the export of donkeys or their products turned lucrative, the trade should be well regulated “given the complex nature of this trade.”

The report was prepared by Eala’s Joint Committees on Communication, Trade and Investments, Agriculture and Tourism and Natural Resources.

Members of both Committees visited areas where ‘the beast of burden’ are reared specifically in the semi-arid zones of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. The legislators were informed that the demand for the animals for the Chinese market has been relentless during the last three years.

This, they pointed out, has impacted so negatively on national donkey herds in EA such that the donkeys have become “scarce”.

“Poaching of donkeys is rife, particularly since the decline of more readily available donkeys”, the report obtained by The Citizen said in part.

In China, donkey hides are used to extract a gelatinous substance for the manufacture of Chinese traditional medicine called ‘ejaio’.

In Tanzania, the lawmakers were informed that the Chinese-owned slaughter houses in Dodoma and Shinyanga have closed down since 2020.

By the time the government banned the trade, a total of 62,325 animals had been slaughtered by the Chinese firms in both regions.

Tanzania government’s ban, the report said, came after the donkey population in the country was seen to drop “at an alarming rate”.

However, the ban on donkey slaughter in Tanzania reportedly led to rampant smuggling of the animals to slaughterhouses in the neighbouring countries.

Statistics indicate that until recently, Ethiopia had the largest population of the animals in eastern Africa; 8.8 million followed by Kenya 1.8 million.

The animal population in South Sudan stood at 708,414, Somalia (400,000), Tanzania 296,660 and Uganda 150,000.

It is estimated that at least 1.8million donkey skins are traded per year. The global demand has been conservatively estimated to be 4million.