Charity makes impassioned plea to save Nigeria’s donkeys from skin trade

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

Nigeria’s government has been lobbied by the world’s largest equine charity, The Donkey Sanctuary, to safeguard the country’s national donkey herd from “predatory interests” in the lucrative donkey skin trade.

At a public hearing in the House of Representatives, hosted by the committee on Agricultural Production and Services, The Donkey Sanctuary made an impassioned plea in support of a bill by Hon. Garba Mohammed which would: “Prohibit the killing and exportation of Donkeys or its carcass or derivatives out of Nigeria given their depletion in numbers.”

For several years, Nigeria’s donkey population has been targeted for its skins, which are used to make a traditional remedy in China known as ejiao.

I his presentation to the committee, Simon Pope, campaigns manager for The Donkey Sanctuary said: “Nigeria’s donkey population is being cut down and harvested like maize on an industrial scale for their skins. It is unregulated, unsustainable and despite the export of skins being prohibited by law, it continues unchallenged.

“Even traders are now claiming that donkeys are becoming ‘scarce’ in some parts of Nigeria. With millions of people in Nigeria dependant on working donkeys for their independence and livelihoods, a stand has to be taken now in order to safeguard this valuable livelihood assets for both current and future generations.“

Simon Pope (4th from right), Hon. Garba Mohammed (3rd from right in brown) and Linda Edwardes (6th from right) at the House of Representatives in Abuja.
Simon Pope (4th from right), Hon. Garba Mohammed (3rd from right in brown) and Linda Edwardes (6th from right) at the House of Representatives in Abuja. © The Donkey Sanctuary

There was overwhelming support for the Bill amongst members of the Committee but also from key Government Departments and officials, including the Director of Veterinary Services who attended and spoke at the hearing. During a meeting with the Speaker of the House subsequent to the committee hearing, The Donkey Sanctuary was informed that the Bill would become law as soon possible.

A news report from January 2018 quoted a butcher at the Nkwo Jakki market in Ezzamgbo in Ohaukwu Local Government AreaPaschal Ogwa disclosed that more than 200 youths are in the slaughter business and make a great deal of money each day as “… about 2500 to 4000 donkeys are killed each day.” If correct, and 2500 donkeys are slaughtered five days a week at Nkwo Jakki, this equates to 650,000 donkeys a year, in which case Nigeria’s 1.5 million donkeys will be gone in fewer than three years.

Nigerian media this week reported claims by advocates of donkey ranching or farming that their businesses will re-supply the diminishing population. But The Donkey Sanctuary warned against some of the inflated claims being made about the revenue that could be generated from donkey farming, urging the industry to be realistic and honest about the expected returns.

Poor people across Africa rely on donkeys for their livelihood, which is being impacted by Chinese demand for the skins of the animals.
Poor people across Africa rely on donkeys for their livelihood, which is being impacted by Chinese demand for the skins of the animals.

“At present, there are no donkey farms outside China, so this is an untested and uncertain business venture,” Pope said.

“It is a high-input (cost, time), low-output (low and lengthy production numbers) farming system – donkeys have only one foal every year and are only fertile when reaching two years old. Feed has to be bought, there are vet bills and export taxes.

“The claims made by the donkey farming advocates that $2 billion can be generated annually from donkey production in Nigeria do not stand up to scrutiny. With an average donkey hide fetching $100, a breeding herd of 13.5 million would be needed from day one to generate $2 billion worth of annual revenue from donkey skins. These claims are both misleading and unrealistic. They also fail to recognise the far greater value that accrues to donkey-dependent communities and the rural economy from a vibrant, flourishing working donkey population.”

Millions of individuals, hundreds of thousands of communities in Nigeria are sustained by the livelihoods provided to them by a donkey over its 20+ years of service. “They provide something far more valuable to millions of people both as a loyal, sentient being as well as on a socio-economic level,” Pope said.

“The unrelenting demand for donkey skins in Nigeria has already impacted on the livelihoods of people who depend on donkeys for an income. The minority voices of opposition to the Bill have been drowned out by those determined to protect this valued and precious resource for the Nigerian people. Nigeria has shown itself to be a leader in respect of curbing the skin trade and we hope other countries follow that lead.”

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