OIE steps in to help fight global donkey skin trade

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Donkeys may be of direct or indirect use in production and commercial activities. Specifically, they contribute to agricultural production and food security by transporting water and fodder for other livestock, firewood and other daily needs to the homestead and agricultural products to the market.
Donkeys may be of direct or indirect use in production and commercial activities. Specifically, they contribute to agricultural production and food security by transporting water and fodder for other livestock, firewood and other daily needs to the homestead and agricultural products to the market. © Emmah Kwoba/OIE

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has called for better implementation of standards to help protect the welfare of donkeys, currently at risk because of the global trade in donkey skins, especially in Africa.

“Considering the impact and consequences of the increased global demand and trade of donkeys and their products, the OIE encourages its members to implement international standards, not only to protect donkey health and welfare, but also to safeguard the livelihoods that depend on them,” the OIE said.

The move has been applauded by the International Coalition for Working Equids (ICWE), which comprises of Brooke, The Donkey Sanctuary, SPANA and World Horse Welfare.

The coalition has been working in partnership with the OIE on implementing the organisation’s standards on the welfare of working equids and working in communities in Africa where infectious disease has plagued the equine population, with reportedly thousands of donkey fatalities over the past three months. These deaths have further depleted populations already decimated by the indiscriminate, and often illegal, slaughter of donkeys for their skins, which when boiled produce a gelatine called ejiao, an increasingly popular Chinese remedy.

The coalition also marked World Donkey Day on May 8, which ICWE chair and World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers said existed for a reason. “These animals are intrinsic to the livelihoods of many millions of people.  So we welcome the OIE’s statement highlighting the need for OIE standards on welfare, biosecurity, transport and slaughter to be implemented to help protect the donkey population in Africa.

A typical donkey cart waste management team.
A typical donkey cart waste management team.

“Thousands of households rely on these donkeys for transport, traction and income generation. We do not yet know the full extent of the impact of the donkey hide trade in Africa and of the loss of so many animals from disease, but ICWE members are ready to support communities and governments with technical advice to help implement the OIE standards,” Owers said.

“We echo the OIE’s concern about reports of illegal transport and slaughter of these donkeys for a trade which needs to be more humane and sustainable.”

As part of its mandate, the OIE develops international Standards aimed at improving animal health and welfare worldwide. These standards are developed in a responsive, science-based and transparent process and published in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code, after being adopted by its 182 member countries.

A specific chapter on Welfare of Working Equids has been adopted in 2016 by OIE member countries to complement the broad range of standards relating to the welfare of terrestrial animals. It applies to equids, including donkeys, that are destined, used for, or retired from, traction, transport and generation of income. Even if they were not specifically developed for equids used to produce meat or other products, many of them can be implemented to improve the management of their living conditions and the treatment of their diseases and injuries.

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