Clothing/Cosmetics and Animal Abuse Article from

The Donkey Skin Trade—Everything You Need To Know

From Olivia Deming,
August 2023

Since only the hide of the donkeys is used to make ejiao, malpractice, and what is essentially animal torture, runs rampant.... The collagen that is found in ejiao is not scientifically believed to have any real benefit to humans.

wild Donkeys

Donkeys and wild burros are being skinned alive and slaughtered to create a product called ejiao, a gelatin produced from boiling donkey hides. The product is then put into cosmetics and traditional Chinese medicines, or sold simply in the gelatinous form. Since only the hide of the donkeys is used to make ejiao, malpractice, and what is essentially animal torture, runs rampant. Concern over the spread of global diseases has increased as the slaughter of donkeys continues for precisely this reason.

Despite the lack of any real evidence to support the purported scientific benefits of ejiao, the demand only grows. To meet the demand of 2.3 to 4.8 million hides each year, the legal and illegal trade of donkeys has expanded in countries worldwide, predominantly in Africa. China permits the import of hides from nonedible species, such as donkeys, from 23 countries. In 1990, when ejiao was first gaining popularity, China had the largest donkey population in the world, and the ejiao industry consumed around 400,000 hides a year. The donkey population in China has since plummeted, while the demand has skyrocketed. Since donkeys reproduce slowly and rarely, China’s investment in breeding has minimal payoff. Because of this, they have had to heavily rely on imports, the tax on which was lowered from 5 percent to 2 percent in 2018.

The Plight of Donkeys

The transport of these animals has caused concern for zoonotic diseases due to the lack of oversight over the trade, but disease is not the only part of the donkey trade that causes alarm. Donkeys are being stolen from people and families to be sent to slaughter, despite the critical role that they play in the survival and livelihood of communities. Donkeys often play vital roles such as transportation, whether of people or food and water, and they are being poached for the sake of a luxury product.

Once the animals are captured, either from the wild or out from under families, the journey they take to slaughter is horrific and cruel. The donkeys are packed onto trucks and driven to wherever the nearest processing facility is. This could be an incredibly long journey, as more and more countries move to ban the export of donkey skins, forcing transport across borders. Once in the truck, there is no concern for the donkeys’ health or survival. They are deprived of any food or water, and sustain injuries on the truck such as broken limbs. At the processing facility, they are brutally murdered using hammers, knives, guns, or other objects. There are even some reports of donkeys being skinned alive.

In 2020, Kenya became one of the countries that banned the slaughter of donkeys, but this decision was overturned just months later, and now they have decimated their donkey population by 66 percent. At this rate, there is reasonable concern that donkeys will be extinct within years. Tanzania has introduced a 10-year ban on donkey slaughter, and Nigeria has introduced similar bans to end slaughter outright with no timeline. South Africa, however, has only imposed limits, maintaining only two licensed slaughterhouses. Pakistan, however, recently authorized the export of donkey skin to China. The distressing reality is that whether or not countries impose a ban or not, the practice continues, as it is estimated that a third of the hides sent to China are from stolen donkeys.

There is also growing concern for wild burros in the US, as the Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.) continues to round up these animals along with wild horses. There are incentive programs in place for adoptions of the wild burros they round up, and the auctions are now frequented by ‘kill buyers,’ which raises reasonable suspicion as to what the ultimate fate of these animals becomes.

“The US is the third largest importer of products containing ejiao, which means if the Ejiao Act passed, approximately $12 million in annual imports would cease.”

While The Donkey Sanctuary reports that neither the US or Canada exports donkey skins to China directly, it does not mean that there is no hand in the gruesome practice. Amazon, for instance, allows customers to buy ejiao and ejiao products directly with Amazon Prime. In September of 2021, H.R. 5203 or the “Ejiao Act,” was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). This bill would “prohibit the sale or transport of ejiao made using donkey skin in interstate or foreign commerce.” The latest action on the bill also occurred in 2021 when it was referred to the Subcommittee on Health, with no significant movement within the past two years. The US is the third largest importer of products containing ejiao, which means if the Ejiao Act passed, approximately $12 million in annual imports would cease.

Solutions for Change

Ejiao is believed to help a myriad of health ailments, ranging from infertility to insomnia, as well as having the properties to mitigate aging in Chinese medicine. Again, there is no credible scientific evidence that the benefits of ejiao are genuine. Nevertheless, the demand for the product continues, and it is untenable and inhumane to continue the donkey slaughter. To meet ejiao demand, alternatives and other solutions must take precedence to save the donkey population.

Cellular agriculture could fulfill ejiao production without slaughtering donkeys at all. Instead initial cells would be obtained from the animals, similar to a biopsy, and then these cells would grow in large, steel bioreactors. Chemically speaking, the product is identical to what would be obtained from real donkey hide. This would not only save millions of donkeys, but also prevent the contamination of the ejiao from the spread of disease. Donkeys will be driven to extinction at the current rate of slaughter, and cellular agriculture provides a sustainable alternative.

Another important fact to reiterate is that the collagen that is found in ejiao is not scientifically believed to have any real benefit to humans. In fact, the science supporting collagen more generally is relatively limited in humans, with most of the findings supported through animal testing, with the benefits in humans mostly related to skin and joint health. Even so, for people convinced of the benefits of collagen, there are a plethora of sources besides ejiao, including foods and supplements.

The bottom line is that the senseless violence against donkeys is dangerous for everyone involved - not only the animals themselves, but other creatures and humans susceptible to disease, as well as consumers of ejiao. The growing illegal nature of transport also makes this practice all the more risky. Ejiao, as made from donkey hide, should be off the market, and if the demand for the product is truly so large, investment in cellular agriculture is the only humane way forward.  

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