Kenya’s agriculture minister has ordered donkey slaughterhouses to be shut down as concerns rise over the theft of the animals by gangs seeking their skin for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Kenya has become the epicenter of a fast-growing industry in Africa to supply donkey skins to China, where a gelatin called ejiao made from boiling them down is used in a traditional medicine believed to stop aging and boost libido.
Kenya has four licensed donkey abattoirs — more than any other country on the continent — which slaughter about 1,000 donkeys per day, government data showed.
However, growing Chinese demand for ejiao has led to a black market with gangs hired by skin-smuggling networks to steal donkeys, inciting anger in communities that depend on the animals for livelihoods, farming or transport.
“We want to stop that criminality. We want to stop that brutality,” Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives Peter Munya told reporters on Monday after meeting protesting donkey owners in Nairobi.
“[We want] to restore the donkey to its rightful place in our society — that of supporting livelihoods and providing crucial transport that is not easy to get, especially for the lower echelons of our society,” he said.
If the trade continued, donkey populations would be decimated, he said, adding that this would affect the country’s economy.
The slaughterhouses have been ordered to close within a month.
More than 300,000 donkeys — 15 percent of Kenya’s population — have been slaughtered for skin and meat export in less than three years, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization said.
More than 4,000 were reported stolen over the same period from April 2016 to December 2018, it said in a report in June last year.
The report said that the animals were being slaughtered at a rate five times greater than their population was growing, which could wipe out Kenya’s donkey population by as early as 2023.
Donkey owners who have lost their animals to the trade welcomed the decision, but expressed fears that it would continue underground.
“God is good. He remembered the poor people in Kenya who have nothing but their donkeys,” said John Nduhiu Kuiyaki, chairman of a donkey owners’ association on the outskirts of the Naivasha, 100km north of the capital.
“We have lost a lot of money from the theft of our donkeys — this has impacted everything from being able to send our kids to good schools to our inability to buy land,” he added.
The group of 30 owners used to have 100 donkeys, but thefts over the past three years left them with only 50, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
Animal rights groups said that the decision by the Kenyan government could encourage other African nations to follow suit.
“This move by the Kenyan government is game-changing,” Donkey Sanctuary CEO Mike Baker said.
“Countries like Tanzania have only engaged in the trade because they were losing donkeys in numbers into Kenya. They now have no reason to allow donkey slaughterhouses to operate either and we call on them to follow Kenya’s lead,” he added.