The African Union is warning that the rising demand for donkey skin on the global market could drive the beast of burden into extinction.
Speaking at the 2022 Pan African Donkey conference that began Thursday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with the theme, “Donkeys now in Africa and to the Future” African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) Director Dr. Nick Nwankpa said that the donkey supports livelihoods and generate income for mostly the low-income households on the continent.
“Despite these valid services, the donkey is viewed as a poor man’s resource,” said Dr. Nwankpa.
The AU-IBAR Director raised concern that the donkey is neglected in the livestock conservation and development policies in most African countries, he called for an urgent need to include donkeys in animal resources and food security frameworks, “particularly as their numbers are increasingly threatened by the global donkey skin trade,” he warned.
Dr. Nwankpa notes that AU-IBAR as the unique specialized technical agency of the African Union Commission (AUC) is charged with coordinating the development and the utilization of animal resources for the wellbeing of African citizens “has come together with Brooke and other partners, to convene this conference to arouse Africa to the threats facing the donkey population on the continent,” he said and added, “It is an opportunity for all of us to arrive at a common position on the exploitation of the donkey in the continent.
Adding that the decision from the 2022 Pan African Donkey Conference will guide the policies and strategies to preserve the donkey as a critical resource for the African Community.
He lauded the involvement of various stakeholders and the strategic partnership in advancing animal welfare agenda and the commitments to improve the livelihoods of the African Community “that has led to the development and endorsement of the Animal Welfare Strategy for Africa by AUC Head States and Summit in February 2018 and the establishment and the operationalization of the Africa Platform for Animal Welfare (APAW) whose secretariat is hosted at AU-IBAR,” said Dr. Nwankpa.
The Anglican Church of Kenya, Archbishop of the Right Reverend Dr. Jackson Ole Sapit who spoke at the Pan African Donkey Conference, called for an end to the trade in donkeys saying that the donkey was never meant for trade, but as a mode of transport to aid humanity.
Noting that the origin of the donkey is in Africa in Ethiopia and Somalia, Dr. Ole Sapit said that the trade and practice of eating donkey meat is alien to Africa because the donkey was never meant for food in Africa.
“Man was given a special mandate to have dominion and as a steward in the garden and not to deplete God’s creation but to make them thrive,” said Archbishop Ole Sapit and added, “donkeys now in Africa and the future depend on what we as human beings are going to do about them, they are entirely in our hands, we have capacity to destroy and extinct them but we also have the capacity to preserve them and protect them for posterity.”
Noting that the donkey’s home is Africa having been first domesticated in Ethiopia and present-day Somalia as an animal to aid humankind, the Primate said that the donkey is key to Africa’s rural economy as it is mostly used in transporting goods to the markets for trade, “it helps human beings in times of distress when they are running away from calamities including drought, by carrying the luggage through difficult terrains.”
At the meeting held at Kisenga Conference Center in Dar es Salaam, the Archbishop said that the donkey has been a fundamental part of the economy of humankind right from creation “of humanity, in the economy of the world and even today our rural economy depends on the donkey,” said Dr. Ole Sapit and added, “the donkey to rural Maasailand was used to draw water and take it home, to carry wares to the market as well as carry building materials for the construction of dwelling places.”
Dr. Ole Sapit said that introduction of a market for slaughtering donkeys in Africa, is foreign to the African culture, “it is not part of us, we were not given the donkey to eat as we were given other animals to use as food,” he said, and added, “we were given the donkey to aid humankind how then can we afford to extinct the only animal whose purpose is to aid us”? he wondered.
The Regional Director, Brooke East Africa Dr. Raphael Kinoti while noting that there are 47 million donkeys in the world said that the donkey is an important animal to especially the lower rungs of the population in Africa with some societies having a saying that, “a woman without a donkey becomes the donkey herself,”
The Brooke Ethiopia Programme Manager Dr. Yohannes Kassim warned that the donkey population in Africa is under threat due to the high demand for Ejiao or gelatine developed from donkey hide, that used as an ingredient in the traditional medicine of China.
“It is estimated that the Ejiao industry currently requires approximately 4.8 million donkey skins annually which could wipe out the African total donkey population of 48 million is appropriate measures are not taken by all stakeholders,” said Kassim.