Brazil is among the first countries outside Africa to join the horrific donkey skin industry, with traders capturing donkeys living in the wild to “harvest” them for their skins for the Chinese market.
Donkey skins are boiled and the gelatin extracted to produce ejiao, an increasingly popular traditional Chinese medicine. It is hailed as a miracle elixir in China and is heavily marketed as a cure for everything from anaemia to impotence despite no scientific evidence of any health benefits. Earlier this year China’s National Health & Family Planning Commission posted on its official Weibo site a blog entry titled ‘Ejiao is not worth buying …‘ stating that ‘ejiao is simply boiled donkey skin’. This sparked a major social media frenzy. They were later required to retract their statement.
Until now, most reports about the welfare concerns and unsustainability of this trade have come out of Africa, where working donkeys are being stolen and slaughtered for their skins.
In Brazil, pressure from donkey advocacy groups has led to the closure of a specific holding facility in Itapetinga, a town in Bahia state, where “shocking footage” showed “horrendous conditions” for animals, British-based charity The Donkey Sanctuary and its partners in the National Donkey Taskforce said.
“When the team visited the compound in Itapetinga, now known locally as ‘the donkey graveyard’, the only evidence of donkeys being there was bones and dung in the scrubland and some putrid-smelling burial mounds near the entrance, which are patrolled by wild dogs and vultures.
“This is the first time we’ve seen evidence of the skin trade’s impact on donkeys outside Africa. It is now a truly global crisis,” the charity said.
“The animals are torn from their natural habitat and transported by road over huge distances to giant pens. They’re held there without food or water for days while they await slaughter.”
The charity said it was so shocked by the footage that it sent an emergency team to investigate other slaughterhouses in Bahia state, including a veterinarian and The Donkey Sanctuary’s rapid response and campaigns manager Simon Pope to Brazil. There, they met with government officials and legal experts.
“What I saw happening to donkeys is inhumane and sickening,” Pope said. “We believe the Bahia state abattoirs are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Our suspicions that slaughterhouses have supply pens where starving, scared donkeys are awaiting their fate has now been proved.”
The team located a new abattoir that claims to kill up to 250 donkeys a day, which joins two others in the Bahia state, Amargosa and Simoes Filho. All three are licensed to export meat and skin.
A local truck driver said he delivers up to 50 donkeys a day, following 1000km journeys over three days from the Pernambuco state. He claims that some donkeys die in transit or arrive lame.
Animal welfare supporters in Brazil are also voicing their outrage, and protests against the inhumane treatment and slaughter of donkeys are being held in 14 states on November 25.
The Donkey Sanctuary is calling for an immediate suspension of the trade in Brazil until it can be shown to be both humane and sustainable.