Charity calls for ban on donkey skin trade and smuggling crackdown

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Conference speaker Mahamud Omar, a long-time champion of donkeys, told how donkey thefts have impoverished farmers in Kenya.
Conference speaker Mahamud Omar, a long-time champion of donkeys, told how donkey thefts have impoverished farmers in Kenya. © Brooke

Nearly 200 delegates including government representatives attended a two-day conference in Nairobi recently to discuss the donkey skin trade.

Fuelled by demand from China, it is having a devastating impact on donkeys and their owners. The theme of the conference late last month, run by Kenya-based Brooke affiliate Brooke East Africa, was ‘Donkeys better alive’.

Brooke is calling for a ban on the trade of donkey skins and associated products from Kenya and a crackdown on cross-border smuggling of donkeys into Kenya for their skins.

The skins are used to produce ‘ejiao’, gelatin used in traditional Chinese medicine. Brooke’s CEO Petra Ingram travelled to the conference and was part of the opening keynote address.

“We know over the last 20 years there has been a significant reduction of the number of donkeys in China and they’re no longer able to supply the demand for the product, ejiao. We think they’re looking for nearly 50% of the skins needed each year outside of China,” Ingram said.

This widespread issue attracted delegates from Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Senegal and Burkina Faso, including representatives from the East Africa Legislative Assembly, which has the power to write laws in several East African countries, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), that helps bring together countries within the region.

Over the two days, the delegates heard from people in Kenya and beyond who have had their donkeys stolen, stripping them of their means of earning a living.

Tanzanian farmer Grace Saruni told conference attendees of the consequences of the rampant theft of donkeys. © Brooke
Tanzanian farmer Grace Saruni told conference attendees of the consequences of the rampant theft of donkeys. © Brooke

Tanzanian farmer Grace Saruni told the conference that donkey theft has led to farmers sometimes not having donkeys to plough the land. “Since 2016, 2017 and 2018 until now, because of the rampant donkey theft; we sometimes do not have donkeys to plough our land. We’d also use them to travel long distances to the river to fetch water; now you have to put the bucket over your head and travel that same distance.”

There are four slaughterhouses operating in Kenya that have exported more than 300,000 donkey skins in the last three years. The exponential demand has meant that donkey owners in Kenya have had their donkeys stolen, and illegal smuggling is taking place from neighbouring countries.

Brooke East Africa’s CEO, Fred Ochieng said that donkeys are being slaughtered at five times the rate of production, “and that means that is not sustainable”.

Research by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO) has predicted that if the trend of slow population growth and the increasing slaughter continues, donkeys in Kenya could be wiped out by 2023.

As a result of the conference, Brooke East Africa was able to agree on several resolutions and recommendations, focusing on collaboration with other countries to make a ban possible and improving their border security. They will also get a clearer idea of local and national donkey populations to try to curb the decline in numbers, and continue to raise awareness and help communities to protect their donkeys from theft.

» The full resolutions were published on both the United Nations Environment website and the IGAD website.

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