Donkeys are in a state of global crisis with the animals facing population collapse across a number of countries as traders target their skins to export as an ingredient for ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine, international animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary can reveal.
The charity’s latest report into the trade, Under the Skin Update, has found that local donkey populations have crashed in a number of countries as increasing demand for ejiao has led to an unsustainable number of donkeys being slaughtered. Gelatine in donkey hides is a key ingredient in ejiao and The Donkey Sanctuary is now calling for an urgent halt to the largely unregulated global trade in donkey skins before donkeys are virtually wiped out in some areas.
The supply of donkey skins cannot meet demand in China, which needs around 4.8 million hides per-year for ejiao production, so traders, mainly in Africa, Asia and South America, are exporting additional skins to China. Donkey populations in China have collapsed by 76% since 1992. Since 2007 donkey populations have declined by 28% in Brazil, by 37% in Botswana and by 53% in Kyrgyzstan. In Kenya and Ghana, both countries where the skin trade operates, donkeys are also being exploited by traders with fears that their numbers could be devastated in the near future.
With just under five million skins needed every year for ejiao production, the industry would need more than half the world’s donkeys over the next five years to meet demand. The collapse of the donkey population will have a hugely damaging impact on the livelihoods of an estimated 500 million people in some of the world’s poorest communities that the animals support. Donkeys transport goods to market, carry water and wood, provide access to education and are a vital source of income for vulnerable communities, particularly women.
The report reveals appalling animal welfare abuses and biosecurity risks at every stage of the skin trade both in its legal and illegal forms. Tens of thousands of donkeys, many of whom are stolen, are rounded up to endure long journeys to slaughterhouses on crowded trucks without access food, water or rest with an estimated 20% of animals dying on route, in some cases. Demand for skins is so high that even pregnant mares and young foals as well as sick and injured donkeys are indiscriminately caught and transported, contrary to international animal welfare guidelines.
The report revealed that many skin trade donkey handlers have little or no training in animal handling, often resorting to cruel and illegal methods of controlling donkeys such as kicking, dragging and the use of spiked sticks called goads. Conditions in many of the donkey slaughterhouses are appalling. The Naivasha slaughterhouse in Kenya was immediately closed after witnesses recorded footage of dead and dying donkeys some with open, maggot-infested wounds. Aborted foetuses were also seen as well as skinned carcasses dumped next to live donkeys awaiting slaughter. The slaughterhouse has since reopened.
In Bahia, Brazil, 800 donkeys were found starving to death in holding pens alongside hundreds of rotting carcasses which had polluted their only water source. Donkeys are often brutally slaughtered in front of other animals. Footage obtained by The Donkey Sanctuary from a slaughterhouse in Tanzania revealed animals being repeatedly hit with hammers in failed attempts to stun them.
The Donkey Sanctuary has also discovered links between the skin trade and wildlife crime, with some traders offering donkey skins for sale on online platforms that are also selling illegal wildlife products including ivory, pangolin scales and rhinoceros horn. In one instance, tiger skins were found hidden underneath donkey skins. Unhygienic practices during transport, in slaughterhouses and when the hides are processed onwards have resulted in an increased risk of the spread of dangerous diseases such as anthrax and equine diseases, equine flu and strangles.
More than 60,000 donkeys died in West Africa this year along live skin trade routes, which the World Organisation for Animal Health have said are almost certainly linked to the trade. These deaths demonstrate the potentially high risk of contagious diseases being spread as a result of the skin trade. Donkey skins from this area are being exported untreated direct to China. Mike Baker, Chief Executive of The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “This is suffering on an enormous and unacceptable scale. This suffering is not just confined to donkeys as it also threatens the livelihood of millions of people.
“The skin trade is the biggest threat to donkey welfare we have ever seen. Urgent action needs to be taken.” Stephen Njoroge from Kiserian, near Nairobi, Kenya, is totally dependent on his donkeys for his livelihood. He said: “I used my donkeys for general transport, collecting water, taking vegetables to market and carrying construction materials. “My donkeys were very close together and were stolen in the same night, and I am still recovering from the loss. I have heard much about the donkey slaughterhouses and they are causing the donkey thefts in this area – they should be closed down straight away; it is the only way to stop the thefts.”
The Donkey Sanctuary is calling for the ejiao industry to cut links with the global skin trade and move towards more sustainable sources of raw materials provided by cellular agriculture such as the use of artificially grown donkey-derived collagen. The charity is also recommending that the Chinese Government suspends the import of donkeys and their products until both can be proven to be disease free, humane, sustainable and safe and for national governments to take immediate steps to stop the trade.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.