The 20th livestock census released few months back has shown a sharp decline in India’s donkey population, much of which has been attributed to their decreasing use in short-distance transport in the country’s hinterland.
Between 2007 and 2012, India donkey population fell by 23 per cent and thereafter — from 2012 to 2019 — it further dropped by 61.23 per cent, leaving just 120,000 donkeys in India, according to the latest provisional census released months back.
However, animal welfare activists like Brooke India and others feel that the sharp fall in India’s donkey population is part of a global decline in their numbers as thousands of them are regularly traded and stolen, including from India for producing, ‘Ejiao’, a traditional Chinese remedy believed by some to have medicinal properties.
‘Ejiao’ is produced by the Chinese from donkey skins, and with its own domestic donkey population falling sharply, the Chinese Ejiao industry has started actively looking towards other countries to source donkeys.
A recent report by a global animal welfare organisation, the Donkey Sanctuary, shows that the Chinese Ejiao industry requires approximately 4.8 million donkey skins annually, while the domestic donkey herd in China had gone down from 11 million in 1992 to just 2.6 million at present, forcing the Ejiao industry to source donkey skins from around the world, placing unprecedented pressure on donkey populations globally, and contributing to the collapse of some national donkey populations.
The report said that for many of the world’s most vulnerable communities, and women in particular, donkeys are a pathway out of poverty and can be the difference between destitution and modest survival.
They are used daily to collect water and provide transport for families to attend health clinics and children to attend school.
The income generated by donkeys transporting goods to market enables owners to invest in savings schemes, contributing to building stronger economies within their communities.
For these people the trade in donkey skins has had a catastrophic impact.
The report says that cruel and often illegal treatment of donkeys by local traders is rife, and many donkeys experience horrendous and inexcusable suffering. Sourcing is often indiscriminate, with mares in the late stages of pregnancy, young foals and sick and injured donkeys entering the trade.
They are often transported, sometimes for days on end, in overcrowded trucks without food, water or rest. In some cases, up to 20 percent of donkeys will be dead by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse.
The report also says that slaughter of donkeys leads to unknown health creates a high risk of the spread of infectious diseases across the globe.
The Donkey Sanctuary, along with its local partners and with Brooke and the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA), is working with national governments and local communities to protect their donkeys.
“We urge the Ejiao industry to move away from sourcing donkey skins internationally and put in place measures to pursue humane and sustainable ways of meeting the industry’s needs,” the report said.