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Mother and baby donkey. Credit: Geza Farkas / Adobe Stock

Global Donkey Populations Decimated for Chinese Traditional Medicine


A British charity has announced that the rising demand for donkey hide gelatin is threatening to collapse their numbers by half across Asia, Africa and South America unless governments intervene now.

The Donkey Sanctuary, based in Devon in England, is dedicated to protecting global donkey populations and they have monitored a “soaring demand” for the animal’s hide in China for manufacturing the traditional medicine  ejiao. And their recent study titled Under the Skin Update, says that if governments do not intervene now the animals global population could be halved in as little as five years.

Inhuman Supernatural Beliefs?

Ejiao’s pharmaceutical name is “Colla Corii Asini” but because it’s obtained by frying donkey's skin it is generally known as “Ass skin jelly”. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) this quick drying, water-soluble hard paste is believed to help improve blood production, especially in women, and is associated with the meridians of the lung, and the “Yin energy” of the liver and kidneys.

As millions of donkeys are slaughtered every year to meet Chinese demand for  ejiao, populations are “collapsing” across Africa, South America and Asia and the study found that donkeys are being brutally slaughtered to meet growing demand, while some animals are being stolen from their owners by illegal traders by night.

A slab of donkey hide gelatine (CC by SA 3.0)

Mike Baker has been CEO of The Donkey Sanctuary since May 2016 and he said in the new study that donkeys have “never before faced this level of threat”. What’s more, the report says skin traders across the world treat these hard-working, sentient animals “appallingly”, often transporting them over long distances without food, water or rest. And, when they arrive at their ‘final destinations’ they can sometimes be held for days without shelter before being “slaughtered in often brutal conditions.”

A Pain in The Ass

In August 2019, I wrote an Ancient Origins news piece about the use of tiger parts within TCM regimens, which claim calcium and protein from tiger bones has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and promotes general healing. But while the highly mythologized tiger’s strength and powers are believed to revitalize a body’s essential energies, treat diseases, and ease the symptoms of chronic ailments. mainstream medical experts discount all such claims.

According to, tigers are mass-slaughtered in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and their body parts are sold in Chinatowns across Europe and North America in “tiger wines, powder, tiger balms and tiger pills.” China’s  ejiao industry requires about 4.8 million donkey skins a year and the new report says that while in 1992 China’s donkey population was an estimated 11 million that figure has collapsed to only 2.6 million today.

The report also states that the ejiao industry would need more than half the world’s donkeys over the next five years to meet demand and that this cruel, medieval industry, is sourcing the mammals overseas for their ‘magical’ hides.

Ejiao Gao walnut donkey hide gelatin cubes. Credit: LP2Studio / Adobe Stock

Abused and Skinned

Over the last decade in Brazil donkey numbers have fallen by 28% and by 37% in Botswana, while in Kyrgyzstan their numbers have collapsed by a shocking 53%. An article in the South China Morning Post says researchers from The Donkey Sanctuary visited a number of slaughterhouses and reported they were being held in “appalling conditions” including 800 donkeys in Brazil found starving alongside hundreds of rotting carcasses polluting their only water source. And in another horrid reminder of what some humans are capable of, The Donkey Sanctuary obtained film of a slaughterhouse in Tanzania where donkeys were “hammered” to death.

Furthermore, a 2017 BBC article reported that in 2016 in Egypt 250 donkeys were found skinned under the sun after they had been stolen and reported missing just days before. And in northern Colombia the Atlantic police investigated several cases of donkey disappearances that had met the same fate as their African cousins being found “abused and skinned”.

Talking The Hind Legs Of Donkeys

Donkeys support the livelihoods of an estimated “500 million people” in some of the world’s poorest communities” and The Donkey Sanctuary is calling on both governments and communities to protect their donkey populations now, before it’s too late. Ejiao producers in China are currently appealing to their government for subsidies to encourage donkey breeding, which they think might lower the demand from the illegal trade, but as this happens demand is escalating and threatens the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families around the world.

The Donkey Sanctuary said in their report that entire families in countries like Ethiopia or Zimbabwe have as their “sole patrimony” the donkeys they own and valued at around US $300, their donkey is "all their fortune.” Other measures are being taken in Colombia with the National Police launching a campaign called "Protect your donkey” and employing 20 new police officers who are specifically targeted with the prevention of any more illegal sacrifices.

However, other countries are taking much more drastic action with Burkina Faso, Pakistan, Mali and Senegal outright banning the export of donkey skins. But the only real hope for the creatures will be when China wakes up and stops their draconian use of animals in their superstitions and ritual practices, but after 4000 years of doing so there’s more chance of talking the hind leg off a…  

Top image: Mother and baby donkey. Credit: Geza Farkas / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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