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Millions of donkeys across the world are being killed to fuel the demand for a traditional remedy in China.

The donkey skin remedy, named ejiao, is produced by boiling down the skin to obtain gelatin, which many of its buyers believe can treat blood conditions and promote general health. When not used to remedy blood disorders, ejiao is also used in products like anti-aging face creams, liqueurs, and sweets, as well as to boost libido and prevent infertility and miscarriage.

The value of the product has increased dramatically in the last couple of decades due to China’s rapidly dwindling donkey population, which has fallen from 11 million to less than 6 million.

Reinet Meyer, an SPCA inspector, told National Geographic that a recent visit to a donkey “farm” in South Africa was the worst case he had seen in his entire 27-year animal rescue career.

He described nearly 70 donkeys desperately trying to find food in trash piles, some already collapsed from starvation. “Many had deformed hoofs and were infected with herpes. Several mothers had aborted their pregnancies from stress. We found at least 19 fetuses, but counting was difficult—they were small and had started decomposing,” he said.

A farmhand tending the property said that the animals had gone a week without food or water because his boss didn’t care about their well-being — their only value was their skin.

These particular animals were euthanized after a veterinarian determined that they were too weak to survive.

Of the world’s 44 million donkeys, at least 1.8 million are slaughtered and traded for their skins each year, according to a report by The Donkey Sanctuary. But in China alone, estimates suggest there is a demand for up to 10 million skins annually — and they are now looking internationally, including countries in Africa where the majority of the animals come from. Smugglers are also hiding other illegal items, such as tiger skins, abalone shells, and cocaine, inside the skins.

While several African governments have banned the export of donkey skins, animals are being stolen in large numbers and the black market trade continues to thrive.

 

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