Charity calls for halt to skin trade that causes mass suffering to donkeys


The results of a shocking investigation by The Donkey Sanctuary reveal mass-scale suffering of donkeys caught up in global trading of their skins to sustain the demand for ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine that relies on gelatin from the hides.

In the first comprehensive study of the trade, the charity has discovered that as many as 10 million donkeys are at risk and it now calls for an immediate halt to the trade until it can be proven to be sustainable and humane.


The Donkey Sanctuary’s ‘Under the Skin’ investigative report reveals that the trade has led to an explosion in the number of donkeys in Africa, Asia and South America being sourced, stolen and slaughtered for their skins which are then destined for China.

The trade, in both its legal and illegal forms, is resulting in a chain of welfare issues for the donkeys at every step, from sourcing to transport and finally slaughter.

Alex Mayers, International Programme Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary said:

“We’ve seen reports of donkeys being skinned alive, being bludgeoned to death, being transported for long distances with no opportunity to rest, feed or drink. Donkeys are a very intelligent species and particularly sensitive to the effects of stress.

“The welfare of any donkey both during and at the end of its life is paramount and should be the primary concern, as for any food-producing animal. Sadly the welfare of donkeys used to produce skins and meat is frequently reported to be ‘severely compromised’ during sourcing, transport and slaughter.”

Virtually all countries with significant donkey populations are reporting an increase in donkey slaughter for this market and countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger have banned the export of donkey hides.

Donkeys caught up in the skin trade have little hope. The skin of an expensive healthy animal generates the same profit as that of a diseased, poorly kept or weak animal, which means that traders often see no value in maintaining good welfare conditions.

Mike Baker, CEO of The Donkey Sanctuary, said:

“Donkey populations cannot continue to be decimated and communities must not be deprived of their only means of survival. Action must be taken now to curb this trade, in the interest of both animal and human welfare.”

The Donkey Sanctuary’s ‘Under the Skin’ report will now be used as the authoritative tool to champion donkeys and their welfare on a global scale and has the following recommendations it will act on:

  • The Donkey Sanctuary calls for a halt to the trade in donkey skins to produce ejiao until the impact of the trade can be assessed and shown to be both humane for donkeys and sustainable for the communities that depend on them.
  • In particular, The Donkey Sanctuary urges other countries affected by this trade to follow the lead taken by Burkina Faso and Niger and ban the slaughter and export of donkeys for their skins.
  • The Donkey Sanctuary urges governments and the industry to join us in raising public awareness about the impact of this trade so that ejiao consumers can make an informed choice.
  • The Donkey Sanctuary calls on governments and local authorities to join efforts to support affected communities, protecting them from the illegal trade and preventing the decimation of donkeys through the legal trade.


Concerned members of the public can act now by supporting The Donkey Sanctuary’s recommendations and read the full report via


Quick-glance skin trade information:

  • Why donkey skins? The donkey skins are being used to make gelatin for a product called ejiao, a product that has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
  • What is ejiao? Ejiao (said: eh-gee-yow) is a hard gel which can be dissolved in hot water or alcohol to be used in food or drink or in beauty products such as face creams. Ejiao is believed to improve blood circulation so is used as a blood tonic by people with anaemia, low blood cell counts or reproductive problems.
  • Why are we hearing about this now? The demand for ejiao has dramatically increased in the last few years. There used to be around 11 million donkeys in China but the number has dropped to 6 million in the last 20 years. Donkeys and donkey skins are now being transported from other countries, including Africa. Most of these are being bought and sold by dealers but a significant number of donkeys are also being stolen from their owners.
  • What does this mean for donkey owners? The stolen donkeys are mostly working animals, which means the owners then have no transport so can’t get to market or fetch water or get children to school. The trade in skins means that the value of donkeys has risen dramatically, which makes theft more likely but also makes it much more difficult for owners to be able to afford to replace a stolen donkey. In Egypt, the cost of buying a donkey has increased from £17 to £170.


Featured image: donkey at a Donkey Sanctuary facility in Egypt. Courtesy Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc.

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About Author

The Donkey Sanctuary was founded by the late Dr Elisabeth Svendsen M.B.E. in 1969. We support projects to alleviate the suffering of donkeys in 35 countries worldwide, including sanctuaries across Europe, where more than 18,800 donkeys and mules have been cared for, and major projects in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Mexico, where donkey welfare is improved through community education and veterinary work. We also provide donkey assisted interaction sessions for vulnerable children and adults and carry out visits to care homes in the local community from our centres in Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds, Manchester and Sidmouth. For further information telephone: 01395 578222, view or visit the charity’s headquarters near Sidmouth in Devon (open 365 days/free admission). Click to see author's profile.

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