Donkeys stolen, skinned in Africa to feed Chinese demand

NAIROBI, Kenya- Dawning was just beginning to break when Joseph Kamonjo Kariuki woke to find his donkey missing. The villager searched the bush frantically for the animals he depends on to deliver water for a living but they were nowhere to be found.

It was the village’s infants who led Kariuki to the ghastly remains: three bloody, severed donkey heads lying on the ground.

” I was in shock ,” told Kariuki, 37, who is known in his Kenyan village of Naivasha as “Jose wa Mapunda”-” Joseph of the Donkeys” in Swahili.

Kariuki believes his donkeys were the latest victims of a black market for donkey skins, the key ingredient in a Chinese health fad that has been threatening the brutes of burden, which many Africans rely on for farmwork and transporting heavy loads.

From Kenya to Burkina Faso, Egypt to Nigeria, animal rights groups said, agents have been seeking to feed China’s insatiable craving for a gelatin they call ejiao( pronounced “uh-jee-ow” ), made from stewed donkey skins that purports to provide health benefits.

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

Kariuki founded a protest group “Tunza Punda Wako” or “Take Care of Your Donkey” in Swahili. They have picketed the abattoir in Naivasha, accusing it of driving the skin thefts.

” At this rate we will tell our children that donkeys once existed ,” he said.

Fourteen African governments have banned the export of donkey scalps, according to animal welfare group Donkey Sanctuary based in the United Kingdom.

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 render scalps to China, told Calvin Onyango, program development manager of the Donkey Sanctuary Kenya .

” We do not have many donkeys and most people do not want to sell their donkeys. So to keep furnishing these slaughterhouses, we have ended up with businessperson or brokers stealing other people’s donkeys to supply the slaughterhouses ,” Onyango said.

Onyango also said rate at which donkeys were being slaughtered meant that there could be none left in five years.

From Kenya, the donkey hides travel thousands of kilometers to China. Many of them end up in an eastern township called Dong’e, where most of the world’s ejiao is made.

On the road to Dong’e, billboard after billboard extol the purported curative powers of the gelatin.

” Ejiao, feed for a long life, lose weight, and get more energy ,” reads a motto published on the side of a hotel dedicated to gelatin tourism.

Farmers create hundreds of donkeys in metal-roofed grime paddocks surrounding the town. 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 procedures about 1 million skins a year, and stimulates up 63 percentage of the ejiao marketplace, according to the Forward Industry Research Institute, a Chinese market research firm. DEEJ said in its latest annual report that its earnings rose 10 percentage to $313 million in 2017.

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

Qin said the soaring demand for ejiao could not be the reason that donkey populations have been shrinking. Rather, Qin wrote, fewer donkeys were being bred because they have been increasingly replaced by the following paragraph machines on farms.

Guo Fanli, an economist in the southern city of Shenzhen, said Qin and DEEJ have inflated ejiao’s value by marketing what was typically used for what was believed to be its blood-boosting properties as something with far wider benefits to body health and beauty.

” By enriching the culture meaning of ejiao, and overstating its actual consequences, the company has enabled us to made it into a health product with multiple utilizes that can be bought as a gift ,” Guo said.

” The more it has been hyped, the more miserably it could autumn ,” he also said.

Others have echoed skepticism of ejiao’s uses. China’s government health agency told ejiao marketing was based on” superstitious ideas .”

” Donkey hide is just’ simmered donkey skin, ‘ ” the commission on human rights said in a February statement on the micro-blogging site, Sina Weibo. The commission took down the post after an uproar among traditional medicine enthusiasts.

One such advocate is Fu Yanlin, a professor at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, who said he often prescribes ejiao to the 100 patients he insures a week for urinary, cardiovascular, gynecological, and other ailments.

The surge in ejiao demand has driven the price of donkey conceals up by virtually five times- from $78 per conceal in 2010 to $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 nation media, driving producers to seem abroad.

In response to the surging demand, state-built donkey abattoirs have sprung up in the African nations of Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Botswana. Niger’s hide exports tripled. Botswana slaughtered 3 percent of its total donkey population in six months, according the Donkey Sanctuary.

More than 2 million of the world’s 44 million donkeys are killed for their skins every year, according to Donkey Sanctuary.

In rural parts of western Zimbabwe, there were often more donkeys than automobiles on the roads.

Farmers like the Chingodza family were defying market pressure to sell their donkey, which have been vital for farmwork and transportation to the biggest nearby town, Seke, about 40 kilometers( 25 miles) outside of Harare.

” I like my donkeys. They help a lot and are dear to me ,” said Jeffrey Chingodza, 65, as he put a yoke on a donkey.” I won’t sell for export to Chinese abattoirs .”

His 20 -year-old son Tawanda, however, said surging prices were tempting.

” When you have a car and you get the first purchaser telling’ I will give you $3,000 for it, and the second buyer tells I will give you $6,000 ,’ what would you do ?” Tawanda said.” I will definitely sell. All of us want fund .”/ kga

Source: Inquirer Lifestyle

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