Increasing demand for donkey pores and skin by China has escalated the costs for the beast of burden, creating a giant drawback for Nigerian peasants and artisans who use it.
In China, the skins of donkeys are believed to have medicinal properties.
“Two years ago we were buying donkeys strong enough for our trade for between 15,000 and 18,000 naira (between $42 and $50)—but now to get a good donkey you will require 70,000 to 75,000,” mentioned Nigerian sand digger, Abubakar Ya’u.
“The reason for this is the huge purchase of donkeys which are transported to the south where their meat is consumed and their skin exported,” he defined.
“To us, it is a calamity because as a sand digger if you lose your donkey, you can hardly raise the money to replace it.”
Fellow sand digger Abdurrahman Garba, who has been within the enterprise for 30 years, added that export bans by a few of Nigeria’s neighbours had made the scenario worse.
“Now that Niger has banned donkey exports to save its stock, the Chinese have turned to our stock—depleting them at an alarming rate,” mentioned Garba, 40.
Botswana, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Gambia all impose restrictions on the commerce, whereas Zimbabwean authorities blocked a personal donkey slaughterhouse below development and Ethiopia closed its solely functioning abattoir.
Garba admitted that the temptation to promote the animals for short-term acquire could possibly be overwhelming.
“I was offered 95,000 naira for my biggest donkey but I fought hard to resist the temptation to sell it because I knew I will not be able to replace it,” he mentioned. “We blame the Chinese for this disturbing situation.”
The animals are more and more being transported, typically covertly, from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria to the southeast the place they’re then sometimes slaughtered.
Donkeys are comparatively cheaper within the Muslim-majority north as they’re sometimes not slaughtered for his or her meat, tempering demand.
But the north-south commerce route for donkeys was already properly established as consumption has historically been comparatively excessive within the south the place some communities have lengthy eaten the animals.
At a market in Ughelli, Delta State—the centre of the Nigerian donkey commerce—tons of of donkeys are crammed into pens below the burning solar as they await their destiny. Some are skeletally skinny, all are quiet.
New animal pens are being made each month because the demand for donkey hides and meat is met with an steadily rising provide from the north.
From Delta state, hides are shipped to China the place they’re stewed to render the coveted gelatin referred to as “Ejiao” in Chinese.
The consumers, who imagine that soluble Ejiao gum is an efficient treatment for troubles starting from colds to getting older, comprise a market regarded as price tons of of tens of millions of yearly.
“The medicine is popularly referred to as a blood tonic and helps to fortify the body, particularly in conditions like anaemia,” mentioned Oliver Emekpor, a butcher dealing with donkey meat on the Ughelli market.
“It comes in blocks of dried pieces which are melted down into a brew of herbal mixture to drink and sells for up to $390 (330 euros) per kilo.”
Nothing is wasted. To maximise earnings, donkey sellers usually promote the remaining meat to unwary shoppers as beef, a observe described by a neighborhood commerce affiliation as “criminal”.
Hooves are used to make sneakers and donkey bones are used to fabricate plates.
‘Scarcity of donkeys’
Simon Pope, a campaigner on the Donkey Sanctuary, a British animal welfare charity, mentioned that the dimensions of the donkey commerce is sort of unimaginable to estimate.
“Each donkey hide produces one kilogram of Ejiao and there is a huge uncertainty about how many hides are being used annually,” he mentioned.
Yemi Adebayo, an official at Nigeria’s commerce ministry, acknowledged that donkey cover gross sales to China are booming, however refused to verify if any deal had been struck to facilitate shipments.
“Different countries either support or oppose the trade in different ways,” he mentioned, however the standing of the exercise in Nigeria remained unclear.
Dong-E E-Jiao is China’s market chief for the manufacture and sale of Ejiao, controlling 70 % of the market. The agency posted pre-tax earnings of $295 million (250 million euros) in 2016 and dealt with roughly 700,000 donkey hides in 2014 alone.
Donkey numbers in China have almost halved from 11 million within the 1990s to 6 million in 2013, in line with official statistics.
China produces 5,000 tons of Ejiao annually, requiring some 4 million hides, in line with the China Daily.
“The strong players will get stronger amid the scarcity of donkeys and decreasing supply of donkey hide,” wrote BOCOM International monetary providers in a analysis notice for buyers.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s investigation into the commerce, “Under the Skin,” revealed that the explosion in demand had led to a surge in donkey thefts in Africa, Asia and South America.
“Donkeys may soon go extinct if they continue to be killed,” mentioned Garba, the veteran sand digger. “Once they are finished, our trade will suffer.”