Appetite for donkey hide puts African community livelihoods at risk: Deakin research

Media release
11 January 2018

A Deakin University researcher has supported calls for an international ban on trading donkey skins to save the livelihoods of many African families, and prevent the animal from extinction.

Dr Max Kelly, a senior lecturer in international and community development studies, has recently returned from Malawi where her research confirmed the social, cultural and economic value of donkeys.

Dr Kelly found that donkeys are invaluable to the livelihood of mostly poor families in Malawi. However their ability to earn an income is at potential risk due to the high demand for a Chinese traditional medicine that has seen donkeys stolen for their hides.

“In Malawi, donkeys are immensely important to the livelihood of the people who own them,” Dr Kelly said.

“They are used in pulling carts, as pack animals and even as make-shift ambulances as well as being hired to community members. They reduce the reliance on human labour for people who can’t afford machines such as tractors.

“Poor rural households can make a reasonable living out of donkeys which contribute significantly to their capacity to earn a living and support their families.”

While Malawi’s relatively small donkey population does not currently appear to be a target for Chinese traders, Dr Kelly believes that without a ban on trade in donkey skins and products across the whole African continent this situation may not last.

“A number of African countries have implemented a ban on the international trade in donkey skins and I hope there is the political will to see this spread across the continent,” Dr Kelly said.

“Donkeys are becoming more valuable as their skins are increasingly sought after as an ingredient in a Chinese traditional medicine called ejiao.

“The increased demand for ejiao has resulted in an increase in donkeys being stolen and slaughtered for their hides.

“One villager in Tanzania had most of his donkeys stolen. If the value of donkeys goes up, poor people who depend on donkeys for their livelihood can’t keep them.”

While donkeys are not currently endangered, Dr Kelly said she feared they could be in the future.

“There are about 44 million donkeys on the planet and the Chinese demand is estimated at anywhere from six to 10 million a year,” Dr Kelly said.

“Unless the number of donkeys being slaughtered is reduced to a sustainable level, donkeys may end up on the endangered list.”

Dr Kelly will submit her findings to the UK-based Donkey Sanctuary and believes the evidence will promote further bans to push the trade out of Africa.

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