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 a traditional Chinese medicine.

The Donkey Sanctuary's latest report into the trade, 'Under the Skin Update', has found that local donkey populations have crashed in a number of countries as demand for the ingredient, ejiao, has increased.

This 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 per cent since 1992. Since 2007, donkey populations have declined by 28 per cent in Brazil, by 37 per cent in Botswana and by 53 per cent 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 to food, water or rest, with an estimated 20 per cent of animals dying along the 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.

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.”

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