Most people have no idea about the plight of the donkeys. When I tell people they look at me with an expression that’s half shock and half surprise. They’re startled when they learn that donkey skins are valued for their ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine believed to treat illnesses as diverse as anemia, insomnia and reproductive issues. Until we can fully understand the situation, we need to find out more about ejiao and its role in Chinese medicine.
The knee jerk reaction is to get mad, but to vilify an entire culture over the way they treat donkeys is unreasonable in my opinion. At Oscar’s Place, we hope that this will change over time, but for now our unrelenting mission is to save as many donkeys as we possibly can and provide them with long, safe, and healthy lives.
Ejiao (pronounced eh-gee-yow) is a hard gel that can be dissolved in hot water or alcohol to be used in food or drink, or in beauty products such as face creams. Believed to improve blood circulation, ejiao is used as a blood tonic by people with anemia, low blood cell counts or reproductive problems. Donkey-hide gelatin obtained from the skin of the donkey by soaking and stewing, and is produced primarily in several coastal provinces of China: Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong.
China’s demand for ejiao seems to be prodigious. Their own stocks of donkeys have collapsed by 76 percent since 1992, and its annual supply of about 1.8 million donkeys cannot produce enough skins for a surging market which now demands at least four million lives a year. In fact, if the current pace continues, more than half of the world’s donkeys would need to be slaughtered in the next five years to feed China’s demand for ejiao.
Contributing to the problem, the global donkey trade is only loosely regulated. A report in November 2019 by the Donkey Sanctuary linked the trade to criminal networks, animal welfare abuses, increased international biosecurity threats like the spread of anthrax, ecological pollution from unregulated dumping of millions of donkey carcasses, and devastating effects on rural families who have their donkeys stolen.
These effects are especially severe in Africa, where both legal and illegal trade in donkey skins operates in multiple countries. In Botswana, for example, donkey numbers have declined by 39 percent in the last dozen years. Recently, many countries, like Zimbabwe, Niger and Tanzania, have started to fight back by banning the slaughter of donkeys or the export of hides, but enforcement is lacking and the trade continues. In addition, widespread illegal poaching persists in many places. Donkey hides are just too valuable.
In poorer parts of the world where 500 million people depend on donkeys, a healthy working donkey can be key to a family’s economic survival and critical for the transportation of children to school or for women’s participation in the market economy. Indeed, when a donkey is stolen, it is women who are most likely to take on the donkey’s job of physically hauling water and firewood for the family. Far from the idyllic scene of the manger, these lives, for people and their donkeys, are often full of hardship and uncertain futures.
Chinese companies have started to explore alternatives, like cellular production of donkey collagen in labs, which might provide future solutions. But for right now, we will be doing everything humanly possible to save as many donkeys as we can here at Oscar’s Place.
Sources: USA Today and Wikipedia