A report that more than £100,000 worth of a traditional Chinese medicine derived from donkey skins has been donated to several Chinese hospitals in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak is concerning the working animal charity, Brooke.
It says the medicine, known as Ejiao, is not proven to have any positive effect in tackling the virus, known as COVID-19.
Ejaio is made from gelatine found within donkey skins.
The charity is concerned about the risk of spreading viruses as skins are transported from Africa, Asia and South America.
The donation of the Ejiao raises concerns about a trade that already has glaring animal welfare issues and risks of disease-spreading, the charity says.
Whilst the Chinese government has announced a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals and the closure of all wildlife markets across the country, donkey skins continue to be exported to the country at a high rate.
“Over the last decade, there’s been a large increase in demand for Ejiao within medicinal and beauty products and this has had a devastating knock-on effect for global donkey populations,” Brooke’s veterinary adviser, Laura Skippen, says.
“Kenya has been hit the hardest, but it is a crisis across the continent.
“Conditions within the legal donkey skin trade still regularly contravene the international OIE standards for humane slaughter and transport of animals.
“The illegal trade poses even greater welfare risks with donkeys transported for days without food or water. Methods of illegal slaughter are completely inhumane and also pose huge human health risks, with donkey carcasses not being disposed of correctly, which is a public health concern.”
The trade of donkey skins has been linked to the spread of disease before.
In early 2019, equine influenza affected donkeys across seven West African countries, with up to 62,000 animals dying in Niger alone.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) suggested the outbreak may have been a consequence of the unregulated global movement and trading of donkeys for their skins.
Brooke has also voiced fears for the spread of zoonotic diseases such as anthrax – which can pass between animals and humans.
Some countries, such as Senegal and Uganda, have responded by banning the export of donkey skins, but others, including Kenya, have kept the trade legal, meaning donkeys are being smuggled from neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania.
All this is leading to a sharp decline in donkey populations and a catastrophic effect on communities.
An estimated 10 million people in Kenya rely on their donkeys to support their livelihoods.
Research commissioned by Brooke in 2018 found that even though the trade offers short-term financial benefits to farmers, the loss of a donkey makes them vulnerable to poverty in the long term.
Women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.
Brooke wants a global ban on the trade of donkey skins and a crackdown on cross-border smuggling of donkeys for their skins.