24 tons of African donkey skins seized, China demand decimating animals

World | 17 May 2019 6:02 pm

African donkey hides and pet food were among the smuggled products recently intercepted by customs in Guangzhou, Xinhua reports.

Guangzhou Customs said on Wednesday they detained 13 smuggling suspects in connection with goods worth about 82 million yuan.

About 24 tons of African donkey hides, 55 tons of pet food and 122,881 bottles of foreign liquor were intercepted from 21 containers smuggled by rail. Some of the pet food had neared the expiration date and some donkey hides were rotten.

Authorities said that if the rotten donkey hides was made into ejiao, or donkey-hide gelatin, it would pose a public health risk.

Donkey-hide gelatin, known as ejiao in Chinese, is a kind of traditional Chinese medicine and health food made by boiling the donkey's skin and refining the results into a tonic. Ejiao is mainly taken by women who suffer from anemia, dry coughs or dizziness. The name was coined in Dong'e county in eastern Shandong Province, where it was originally produced.

The Chinese health fad is threatening the beasts of burden many Africans rely on for farm work and transporting heavy loads, The Assocaited Press reported last year.

From Kenya to Burkina Faso, Egypt to Nigeria, animal rights groups say, agents are seeking to feed China’s insatiable appetite for ejiao.

Shrinking donkey herds in China have driven ejiao producers to seek out donkey skins from Africa, Australia and South America, threatening the world’s donkey population and driving violent crime and protests across Africa, the activists say.

Fourteen African governments have banned the export of donkey skins, according to the U.K.-based animal welfare group Donkey Sanctuary.

In Kenya, the donkey population has fallen in the past nine years by a third — from 1.8 million to 1.2 million. Kenya’s three licensed slaughterhouses butcher 1,000 donkeys a day to supply skins to China, said Calvin Onyango, program development manager of the Donkey Sanctuary Kenya, AP reported.

Most donkeys at three farms The Associated Press visited were tagged with the initials of the Dong’e Ejiao Corporation Limited, or DEEJ, the nation’s largest producer of donkey gelatin.

The company processes about 1 million skins a year and makes up 63 percent of the ejiao market, according to the Forward Industry Research Institute, a Chinese market research firm. DEEJ says in its latest annual report that its profits rose 10 percent to $313 million last year.

DEEJ president Qin Yufeng declined to be interviewed but sent a statement to the AP saying ejiao has benefited more than 20,000 poor households in 1,000 towns.

Qin said the soaring demand for ejiao isn’t the reason that donkey populations are shrinking. Rather, fewer donkeys are being bred, he wrote, because they’ve been increasingly replaced by machines on farms.

The surge in ejiao demand has driven the price of donkey hides up by nearly five times — from US$78 per hide in 2010 to US$405 in 2015, according to the Shandong Ejiao Association. China’s donkey population, meanwhile, has halved from 9.4 million in 1996 to 5.5 million in 2015, according to Chinese state media, driving producers to look abroad.

Chinese companies have heavily invested in Africa to meet the booming demand for donkey hides, CGTN reported last year.

Some African countries, including Kenya, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Niger, Mali and Senegal are banning the export of donkey hides, or raising export taxes to halt the slaughter of donkeys at a rapid rate.

Pakistan, where there is an estimated 4.9 million donkeys, is said to be an important exporter of donkey skins, exporting 200,000 between 2014 and 2016.


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