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Stolen African Donkeys are Fueling a Chinese Business

by Shelby Hawkins on June 20, 2018

Ejiao, or gelatin made from donkey-hide, is considered a treasure in traditional Chinese medicine. It is used to treat a wide variety of ailments like impotence to insomnia and simple common colds.

China’s largest ejiao manufacturer, Dong’e Ejiao Corporation Limited (DEEJ) processes around one million skins per year and makes up 63 percent of the market. Amazingly, annual DEEJ profits rose 10 percent last year to $313 million. However, not everyone is as convinced about the products healing capabilities.

An economist from Shenzhen, Guo Fanli, believes that DEEJ is guilty of using false advertisement in order to increase their sales. Historically, ejiao is used for its  blood-boosting properties, but the company has marketed to product to be a have much wider health and beauty benefits.

“By enriching the cultural meaning of ejiao, and overstating its actual effects, the company has successfully made it into a health product with multiple uses that can be bought as a gift,” Guo said.

China’s government health agency is also skeptical of its uses, stating that its marketing is based on “superstitious concepts.”

A February commission stated that, “Donkey hide is just ‘boiled donkey skin,” on the micro-blogging site, Sina Weibo. Uproar among traditional medicine enthusiasts caused the commission to be taken down.

Despite these claims, some medical care professionals still swear by this donkey-hide gel. A professor at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine says that he prescribes the gel to 100 patients per week for issues in urination, cardiovascular, gynecological and other ailments.

Aside from doubts in this miraculous gelatin, much of the uproar is caused in the by which it is obtained.

Where Are The Donkeys Coming From?

Joseph Kamonjo Kariuki woke one morning to find that his donkey herd had gone missing. He depends on these animals to bring water to other villagers; they are his livelihood. It was not until later that day when a group of children found the remains of 3 donkeys bloodied with severed heads.

“I was in shock,” said Kariuki, 37, who is known in his Kenyan village of Naivasha as “Jose wa Mapunda” — “Joseph of the Donkeys” in Swahili.

Diminishing donkey herds are fueling the Chinese sale of ejiao; China’s booming business is happening at the cost of Kariuki’s small business and many other villagers in nations like Kenya, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Nigeria and others.

In Kenya alone the donkey population has fallen by a third within the past decade – that’s 1.8 million donkeys to 1.2 million. According to Calvin Onyango, program development manager of the Donkey Sanctuary Kenya, the 3 licensed slaughterhouses in the country butcher 1000 donkeys per day.

“We do not have many donkeys and most people do not want to sell their donkeys,” Onyango said, ‘So to keep supplying these slaughterhouses, we have ended up with businesspeople or brokers stealing other people’s donkeys to supply the slaughterhouses.”

In response to the theft and skinning of African donkeys, a protest group sprang up known as “Tunza Punda Wako” or “Take Care of Your Donkey” in Swahili. They have picketed the slaughterhouse in Naivasha, accusing it of driving skin thefts. Fourteen African governments have also banned the export of donkey skins.

As herds in China began shrinking, they turned to producers in Africa, Australia and South America to feed their business. As a result of this, an increase in crime and protests have erupted throughout the continents.

Regardless of the evidence, DEEJ President Qin Yufeng sent a statement to the Associated Press claiming that the dipping donkey populations are not in correlation to the increase in ejiao sales. According to Yufeng, populations have been dropping due to less donkeys being bred because they have been replaced by machines on the farms.

He also stated that ejiao has benefitted more than 20,000 poor households in 1,000 towns across China.

Regardless of its “benefits”, More than 2 million of the world’s 44 million donkeys are killed for their skins every year, according to Donkey Sanctuary, and that means a loss for the donkey herders in small villages across Africa.


Featured Image via Flickr.

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Shelby Hawkins
My name is Shelby, like the mustang, and I am an avid lover of photography, literature and desserts. I identify as a proud feminist and Pan-Africanist; hopefully that manifests in my writing.