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.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.
In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.
“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.
“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.
However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”
Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.
“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.
Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.
Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.
State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.
The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.
Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.
“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.
However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.
Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.
“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.
While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.
He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.
According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.
“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.
Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.
“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.
He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.
“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.
He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.
Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.
Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month
Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.
Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.
To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.
“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.
Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.
“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).