Gangsters cashing in on black market donkey hides

More than four million hides are purchased in China every year (Picture: AFP)

Criminals in West Africa are profiting from a growing demand for donkey skins in Asia. 

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a pan-African think tank, the global black market for donkey hides is largely driven by China, where glue, or ‘ejiao’, is extracted from the skins to produce traditional medicines, cosmetics, and even aphrodisiacs. 

These practices have seen the number of donkeys in China decrease dramatically since the 1990s. But demand remains high.

With more than four million hides purchased every year, traders are increasingly looking to import this prized ingredient from abroad. 

Many have turned to West Africa. The region has become a hotspot for trafficking in donkey skins, thanks in part to lax enforcement by authorities.

The animals are often cruelly killed with crude instruments, like hammers or daggers. 

This picture taken on February 28, 2017, shows donkeys at a dock at a licensed specialised slaughterhouse in Baringo. The emergence of the global trade in donkey hide attributed mainly to the rise of Chinas middle class and an increased perception of the medicinal efficacy of a gelatine derived after boiling the hides, that is a key ingredient in a medicine called 'ejiao' has raised the price and the rate of slaughter of the animal. / AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Donkeys at a dock at a licensed specialised slaughterhouse in Baringo, Kenya where the trade is also rife (Picture: AFP)
Donkey skins are packed for export in Kenya, where the global trade in donkey hide has risen and is used in Asian medicine (Picture: AFP)

In Mali, one Chinese company is believed to be slaughtering 300 donkeys every day.

Roughly 19 tonnes of hides from Burkina Faso were sold to Chinese customers between 2015 and 2016 alone, while skin exports from Niger almost tripled during the same period. 

Social media platforms also reportedly serve an important role in the supply chain, allowing buyers to anonymously purchase hides from sellers. 

Efforts have been made in recent years to curb the trade. Veterinary service agencies from all members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) signed an agreement to stop licensing the movement and slaughtering of donkeys in 2016.

Other countries have gone further, effectively banning the market for donkey products outright.

But ISS say this hasn’t been sufficient to keep these animals from being trafficked by unscrupulous criminals. 

The effects of these activities aren’t just limited to animal welfare. Black market sales of donkey products also increase the risk of disease, with the underground trade currently thought to be causing the spread of what may be a form of equine influenza. 

ISS said in a recent report: ‘The mass killings of donkeys have dramatic societal consequences in West Africa. The animals are a source of income and a means of transporting people and goods in rural areas.’

The group added: ‘Women rely on them to collect water and other goods, and without donkeys, children often miss school to help their parents with domestic chores.’

In its report, the think tank also pointed out that demand for donkey skins might just as easily be met by the mass production of laboratory-grown donkey collagen as a humane alternative to ‘ejiao’, the ingredient used in traditional Asian medicine. 

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