چهارشنبه ۳۰ آبان ۱۳۹۷

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To Sate China’s Demand, African Donkeys Are Stolen and Skinned

A gelatin made from donkey hides is prized as a traditional Chinese remedy. Now slaughterhouses have opened in Africa, and domestic animals are disappearing from villages.



Donkeys awaiting slaughter at the Goldox Donkey Slaughterhouse in Kenya. As manufacturers of a traditional Chinese medicine struggle to meet rising demand, they are looking to developing countries for donkey hides. Rachel Nuwer


NAIROBI, Kenya — “This is the spot,” said Morris Njeru, gazing down at a tangled patch of farmland where he recently found the bloody corpses of David, Mukurino and Scratch — his last donkeys.


Mr. Njeru, 44, a market porter who depends on his animals to ferry goods around this city, had already lost five donkeys earlier in the year. In each case, the thieves slit the animals’ throats and skinned them from the neck down, leaving the meat to vultures and hyenas.


Four months later, all Mr. Njeru could find of the animals was a single hoof, which he pocketed as a memento.

There are scant remains, too, of Mr. Njeru’s once comfortable life. Without his animals, his income plummeted from nearly $30 per day to less than $5. He can no longer afford payments on a loan for a small piece of property he rented, and he fears he will have to take his child from boarding school.

“My life has completely changed,” he said. “I was depending on these donkeys to feed my family.”

For Mr. Njeru and millions of others around the world, donkeys are the primary means to transport food, water, firewood, goods and people. In China, however, they have another purpose: the production of ejiao, a traditional medicine made from gelatin extracted from boiled donkey hides.


Morris Njeru, who lives outside Nairobi, lost eight donkeys — and his livelihood — to theft last year. All that remained of his donkeys is one hoof, which he kept as a memento. Rachel Nuwer


Ejiao was once prescribed primarily to supplement lost blood and balance yin and yang, but today it is sought for a range of ills, from delaying aging and increasing libido to treating side effects of chemotherapy and preventing infertility, miscarriage and menstrual irregularity in women.


While ejiao has been around for centuries, its modern popularity began to grow around 2010, when companies such as Dong-E-E-Jiao — the largest manufacturer in China — launched aggressive advertising campaigns. Fifteen years ago, ejiao sold for $9 per pound in China; now, it fetches around $400 per pound.


As demand increased, China’s donkey population — once the world’s largest — has fallen to fewer than six million from 11 million, and by some estimates possibly to as few as three million. Attempts to replenish the herds have proved challenging: Unlike cows or pigs, donkeys do not lend themselves to intensive breeding. Females produce just one foal per year and are prone to spontaneous abortions under stressful conditions.


So Chinese companies have begun buying donkey skins from developing nations. Out of a global population of 44 million, around 1.8 million donkeys are slaughtered per year to produce ejiao, according to a report published last year by the Donkey Sanctuary, a nonprofit based in the United Kingdom.


“There’s a huge appetite for ejiao in China that shows no signs of diminishing,” said Simon Pope, manager of rapid response and campaigns for the organization. “As a result, donkeys are being Hoovered out of communities that depend on them.”


Left, donkeys on their way to slaughter at Goldox. Right, John Kariuki, director of the Star Brilliant Donkey Export Abattoir in Naivasha, Kenya, holds up a donkey hide. “This business has helped so many people,” said Mr. Kariuki. Rachel Nuwer


Seventeen skin traders have also opened shop, mostly in Nairobi, and a fourth abattoir is rumored to be on the way. The abattoir owners insist that they are bettering the country by generating jobs and paying handsome prices for unneeded donkeys.


“This business has helped so many people,” said John Kariuki, director of Star Brilliant Donkey Export Abattoir in Naivasha. “Instead of having to sell cows and goats, Maasai pastoralists are selling donkeys to pay their children’s school fees.”


Goldox Donkey Slaughterhouse in Baringo County — the largest of Kenya’s abattoirs, claiming to process some 450 donkeys a day — also attempts to spread good will by providing free water to neighbors, and by paying school fees for four local children.


Critics argue that benefits are exaggerated and that the trade creates a slew of problems.

“Donkeys are being stolen and either slaughtered in the bush or transported in a very bad way, without proper papers or public health standards,” said a Kenyan veterinary officer who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from government superiors.


“All of us — the donkey owners, the veterinary professionals — are against the trade, but the government is not taking a keen interest on this because it provides income to them.”


According to the most recent census in 2009, Kenya had some 1.8 million donkeys supporting an estimated 10 million people. When the next count is published in 2019, Solomon Onyango, program development manager for veterinary science at The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya, expects that figure to have dropped significantly.

“Kenya’s donkey population cannot sustain this demand,” Dr. Onyango said.


Donkey carcasses at the Star Brilliant slaughterhouse in Naivasha, Kenya. Disposal of such wastes has become difficult in some locales. Rachel Nuwer


A freezer at Star Brilliant, where most of the donkey meat is eventually exported to China. Rachel Nuwer


According to the organization, fierce demand is already draining neighboring countries; donkeys sometimes are brought into Kenya from Uganda, Somalia or Tanzania.


Silas Chesebe, an interpreter at Goldox, confirmed that the animals purchased by the slaughterhouse sometimes cross borders. “They come from all over, including Tanzania,” he said.


In an effort to safeguard against purchasing stolen donkeys, he added, Goldox requires its sellers to obtain two “no objection” documents signed by an on-site government meat inspector and a procurement officer. The procurement officer who issues the first document, however, is a company employee.

Mr. Chesebe explained that the slaughterhouse also limits its purchases of dried skins to those sold by Turkana people — because, he said, “everyone knows that only Turkana eat donkeys” — and to fresh skins from sellers who claim their animals died on the way to the abattoir.

Dr. Onyango maintained that none of these rules is sufficient to ensure that donkeys and skins are legally acquired.


In a few rare cases, owners who live near the abattoirs have successfully identified and rescued their animals. Because of this, Lu Donglin, Goldox’s director, announced in October that the abattoir would begin issuing checks that take three days to clear, allowing the company time to recoup payments in the event that stolen donkeys are reclaimed by villagers.


Mr. Kariuki, of Star Brilliant, agreed that theft is a problem and said that he now requires sellers to obtain transport permits from Kenya’s veterinary department.

“I try my best to stop the stealing, because it’s very sad when a poor woman comes here crying that she has lost her donkey that she was depending on to carry water,” he said. “I really feel bad about that and discourage it.”


Complaints about the abattoirs have extended beyond their role in fueling theft, however. Donkeys often arrive in horrific condition, some with broken legs or maggot-infested wounds, and many in states of near starvation. Cruelty complaints filed by the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals — including allegations that donkeys were kept for days in the sun and rain without sustenance — led the government to shut down Star Brilliant for a month.


“There’s no incentive to provide food, water or veterinary care,” Mr. Pope said. “The situation is utterly horrendous from an animal welfare point of view.”

Donkeys that die on the road, he added, are often skinned on the spot, their carcasses left to rot.


A donkey roaming the Goldox slaughterhouse. The animals are not suited to intensive breeding operations, and in some African countries their numbers are dwindling. Rachel Nuwer


Scattered Bones

Indeed, waste disposal has become a significant issue. Last fall, Goldox began dumping donkey remains at a parcel of land it purchased in Chemogoch village, down the road from its slaughterhouse.

After residents living adjacent to the site complained, the company began burying the waste rather than leaving it in the open. But neighbors say the situation is still unacceptable, accusing the company of contaminating ground water and breeding disease.


On a recent visit to the dumping site, several deep, open pits awaited donkey remains, while other areas were covered with recently turned earth. Donkey skulls, ribs, vertebrae and leg bones were scattered in the grass and dirt. A putrid smell hung in the air, and vultures circled overhead.


Evans Kiprop, a farmer whose home is located a few yards away, claims that his cows have developed foot rot and eye problems as a result of the pollution, and that their milk production has fallen to two and a half gallons daily from about eight gallons. He said that feral dogs now frequently gather here, dragging donkey remains to areas where his children play and raising concerns about safety, sanitation and rabies.

“We don’t want to eat or sleep here,” added Koros Kipkoech, another neighbor. “They’re making our village their dumping place.”


A dumping site for donkey carcasses near the Goldox slaughterhouse. Local villagers complain of pollution, foul odors and water contamination. Rachel Nuwer


As frustrations grow, both donkey owners and the Kenya Veterinary Association have held protests in Nairobi and in other cities. In July, Mr. Njeru and more than 1,000 other theft victims called for the immediate closure of the donkey skin trade in a petition delivered to Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, which regulates the industry.


“People are stealing and selling stolen donkeys, but the government is not helping,” Mr. Njeru said. “I reported the crime to the police, but they took no action.”

Ministry officials did not respond to interview requests, but a memo issued in September gives no indication that officials will close the trade. Instead, it states that the industry offers strong employment opportunities and potential for economic development, a conclusion that Dr. Onyango and other critics dispute.


“Should we go into the cocaine business or the sale of elephant tusks just because it makes money?” he said. “You can’t just allow trade in the name of business if it’s hurting people.”


منبع: The New York Times





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  تاریخ انتشار: ۱۴ دی ۱۳۹۶، ساعت: ۲۱:۳۸