Chinese demand threatens to wipe out Kenya’s donkeys

Animal rights activists want Kenya’s donkey abattoirs closed to stop unsustainable trade


Maina Waruru, China Dialogue



Growing demand for donkey meat and skin in China is causing a sharp decline in the animals in Kenya. Animal rights campaigners warn that donkeys could soon disappear in the east African country, where they play a vital role as beasts of burden, especially in rural areas.


Since 2014, four abattoirs have been set up in Kenya to meet demand. The meat is considered a delicacy in China and the skins are processed to create ejiao, a traditional remedy used to treat everything from anaemia to dizziness. However, according to a recent report by the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), the slaughterhouses are operating at below half their capacity.


The report, which was written earlier this year but is so far unreleased, estimates that donkey numbers in Kenya have fallen by as much as half over the past ten years, from 1.8 million animals in 2009 to about 900,000 today.


ANAW chief operations director Kahindi Lekalhaile warns that abattoirs are making the trade unsustainable by slaughtering too many animals. Donkeys are slow to reproduce, with a gestation period of 11-14 months.


A booming market


High demand and declining numbers have increased the value of donkeys. According to Joseph Ng’ethe, a water vendor who relies on his donkey to make a living, an animal can be sold for 15,000 to 25,000 Kenyan shillings (US$145-242), up from 6,000-8,000 shillings (US$58-78) four years ago. Male donkeys tend to fetch a higher price as do animals from areas near highways and towns.


There is now a shortage of breeding males and an increase in thefts. Ng’ethe notes that in his area, 60 kilometres southwest of the capital Nairobi, there’s a new case of donkey theft each week. “During the day, we used to leave our donkeys alone in the fields to roam and graze freely, but not anymore. The risk of them being stolen is too high.” Ng’ethe wouldn’t be able to afford to replace his animal.


In remote regions, donkeys play an even more vital role in everyday life. According to conservationist Noor Ali, “donkeys are everything” in the arid north where he’s based. With few roads, they are relied on to transport supplies such as food, water, firewood and medicines.


Ejiao driving demand ...


Welfare standards ... 


Calls to ban the trade ...


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