Leave our donkeys alone: Aust senators rail against live exports

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African donkeys seeking shade while taking a break from their work. The ejiao trade is threatening their very survival. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Australian senators Lee Rhiannon and Derryn Hinch have spoken out against their government’s plans to allow a live export trade in donkeys and horses.

The Export Control Amendment (Equine Live Export for Slaughter Prohibition) Bill, to be introduced into the Senate today, if passed would prohibit the live export of horses and donkeys for the purpose of slaughter overseas.

Last year Australia’s Turnbull Government prepared an amendment order that if adopted would have permitted the export of donkeys and horses for overseas slaughter. The then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce endorsed the trade as a business opportunity, stating to Chinese businesses: “We’re going to make sure if you want to eat donkey skins, you’re going to eat our [Australian] edible donkey skins”.

The donkey skin trade in Africa has been driven in recent years by escalating demand for traditional ejiao made from a type of gelatin found in donkey skins. The trade is threatening the livelihoods of many of the continent’s most vulnerable communities, which rely on working donkeys.

Senator Lee Rhiannon, who is the Green party’s animal welfare spokesperson,  said that despite what Barnaby Joyce said, it was sure the majority of Australians would not want the Turnbull government to support the trade.

Ejiao for sale in China. Ejiao products are also widely available in Australia.
Ejiao for sale in China. Ejiao products are also widely available in Australia. © Humane Society International

“Numerous countries are now banning the donkey and horse live export trade. Since Pakistan banned the export of donkey hides in 2015, nine African governments have followed suit banning donkey skin exports. Brazil is also considering a ban.

“Low income countries are fighting this trade. Their impoverished communities, who rely on donkeys as transport for water and goods, and as agricultural beasts of burden, have been priced out of ownership and had their animals stolen since this trade took off. We should stand with these countries,” Rhiannon said.

“Our Bill if passed would ensure that the export of equines, including horses, ponies and donkeys, for killing in overseas slaughterhouses will never begin.”

In recent days international animal welfare charities The Donkey Sanctuary and Spana continued efforts to draw worldwide attention to the trade in donkey skins, funding and addressing a one-day discussion conference in Zimbabwe.

The conference follows the government’s refusal to licence the country’s first donkey abattoir in Bulawayo. The abattoir was set to process up to 70 donkeys a day to meet demand for donkey skins for the production of ejiao, which is used in Chinese medicine products. Opposition from the public as well as animal welfare groups prevented the abattoir from opening. But according to research by The Donkey Sanctuary and Spana, at least 105 animals had already perished on its premises and scores more continue to suffer to this day due to neglect at the abandoned site.

Alex Mayers, head of programmes at The Donkey Sanctuary, addresses the Bulawayo skin trade conference.
Alex Mayers, head of programmes at The Donkey Sanctuary, addresses the Bulawayo skin trade conference. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Both charities want the government to take further action to safeguard the country’s equine population.

Deputy director of veterinary public health Dr Jairus Machakwa confirmed that produce export legislation in Zimbabwe does not include donkeys or any other equines, meaning that these animals may not be slaughtered for meat export – and by implication nor may their skins be exported.

During the conference, local chief Khulumani Mathema said: “We thought this [trade/slaughter] was a donkey meat enterprise and as no-one here eats donkey meat, we never thought it would be a big risk. Now we are learning about the actual situation and we see the threat is real.”

Spana Zimbabwe country director Dr Keith Dutlow said the conference was designed to raise awareness about the incredibly harmful long-term impact the skin trade is having.

“Our aim is to prevent the devastation caused by this horrific trade, which is destroying rural communities, undermining communities and leading to the brutal slaughter of a vast number of animals throughout Africa,” Dutlow said.

The conference was hosted by Animal and Wildlife Research and Rehabilitation (AWARE) and Lupane Youth for Development (LUYD).

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