skin trade

Human-animal relations in the Brazilian Northeast: a socio-anthropological case study of donkey trade

Status
Status: 
Ongoing
Applicants
Collaborators
Details
When conducted: 
15 January 2019 - 30 April 2020
Country: 
Brazil
Core methodology: 
In-depth semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders and social actors. This will be complemented by document analysis of relevant materials including, advertisements, manuals, background papers, letters and memoranda, newspaper articles, press releases, organisational or institutional reports and various public records. Statistical data published by official Brazilian institutions will also be reviewed, in order to support to the analysis.
Aims: 
This 16-month project aims to contribute to ongoing studies developed in partnership with The Donkey Sanctuary and the Veterinary and Animal Science Faculty at the University of Sao Paulo, concerning the donkey skin trade. Believing that interdisciplinarity is one of the best strategies to address multidimensional problems, this research project proposes a socio-anthropological approach to identify public perceptions of donkeys and the threats they face in the Brazilian Northeast, mainly in the state of Bahia.
Objectives: 
The specific objectives are: 1. To identify social actors (individuals or organisations) related to donkey trade and donkey protection in the Brazilian Northeast, especially in the state of Bahia; 2. To contextualise the scenarios where donkey trade takes place in Brazilian Northeast; 3. To identify and analyse personal and collective perceptions (social representations) constructed about donkeys (and the donkey trade) by different actors, including: rural populations; animal health authorities at local and national levels; legal authorities; animal rights organisations and welfare representatives.

Hide nor hair –the illicit trade in donkey hides is a threat to wild asses

Citation

Zoe Raw. 2 September 2019. Hide nor hair –the illicit trade in donkey hides is a threat to wild asses. Poster presented at 2nd International Wild Equid Conference. (1 September - 5 September 2019). Prague, Czech Republic.

Authors
Presentation details
Date presented: 
Monday 2 September 2019
Abstract

The global donkey population is estimated at 44 million and is largely associated with economically developing nations where donkeys are used as working animals. Donkeys play a central and critical role in supporting the livelihoods of millions of people accross the world, providing support for farming, enabling access to resources, and in food production. Global demand for diverse products of donkey origin has escalated rapidly, with a particular interest in the premium products resulting from donkey skins.

Ejiao is a traditional Chinese medicine product which is based upon extracts of donkey gelatin from donkey skins, mixed with herbs and other ingredients to form a gelatinous bar, which is marketed as a miracle cure for multiple health problems. Since 2010, consumer demand for ejiao has increased rapidly, and subsequently, so has the demand for donkey skins. The Donkey Sanctuary estimate that a minimum of 1.8 million donkey skins are being traded per year, but this may be a gross underestimate. The increasing wealth and diaspora of the Chinese middle classes, alongside the apparent credibility of ejiao products, appears to have created such a high level of demand for donkey skins that global supply is struggling to keep up, leading to high prices and widespread claims of fraud. Such high levels of demand by the Chinese market are fuelling global reports of donkey theft and a sudden increase in the purchase price of donkeys. Products of donkey origin are so highly sought after that ejiao can sell for up to USD $500/kg.

The alarmingly high demand for donkey skins, and high prices that a donkey skin can fetch, positions donkey skin in a similar position as ivory or rhino horn. There is a complete lack of regulation over the utilisation of donkeys for the skin trade to fuel ejiao production, and new slaughter houses are opening at rapid rates to keep up with demand. Consequently, there has been a sharp rise in donkey thefts. As well as being unsustainable and harmful to rural livelihoods, this illicit trade could have devastating effects on populations of wild asses. Donkey skin is highly valuable, yet increasingly scarce, making it feasible that traders will start targeting wild asses. The Afrcan Wild Ass Equus africanus is Critically Endangered, with fewer than 200 mature indivduals remaining in the wild; unfortunately, the species occupies an area of Africa where the trade in donkey skins is high, exposing it to risk of being targeted. There is also some indication that populations of Asiatic Wild Ass Equus hemionus could also come under threat, given their proximity to China and surrounding socioeconomic climate.

The international trade in donkey skins has emerged rapidly and fiercely, and is grossly unsustainable. The trade has the significant potential to eradicate populations of donkeys across Africa, and poses a serious threat to the conservation and survival of African Wild Ass populations. In this presentation I raise and highlight these issues, and open up discussion for how this new threat may be mitigated for the conservation and management of wild equids.

Donkey skin: the invisible fur trade

Citation

Alex Mayers, Faith A. Burden. 26 July 2017. Donkey skin: the invisible fur trade. Presented at Fourth Annual Oxford Animal Ethics Summer School. (23 July - 26 July 2017). Oxford, UK.

Authors
Presentation details
Date presented: 
Wednesday 26 July 2017
Abstract

Increased levels of personal wealth in China is fuelling demand for luxury products including ejiao, a product made using donkey skin. A traditional medicine, ejiao’s popularity is largely due to its reported ‘anti-aging’ properties. Demand for donkey skins to produce ejiao is conservatively estimated at 4 million per year. This represents a significant proportion of the global donkey population of 44 million. China’s own donkey population has nearly halved in the last 20 years and entrepreneurs are now looking worldwide to satisfy a growing demand.

Despite their essential role in livelihoods and community resilience donkeys are largely invisible in livestock policies, livelihoods and humanitarian projects. It is therefore unsurprising that the emerging trade in skins is also invisible. Donkeys are frequently stolen from owners across Africa and illegally slaughtered in the bush; only the skins are removed and carcasses left to rot. In other areas, donkeys are bought at less than current market value and are transported in inhumane conditions to recently built ‘legal’ slaughterhouses. The invisibility of the legal and illegal markets is compounded by illegitimate export practices and criminal gangs. Due to the lucrative market for skins intensive farms are present in China and are likely to expand to other countries, such rearing creates significant welfare concerns for a species poorly adapted to intensive practices. Even if awareness of this trade improves, in the short term donkey owners are facing donkey prices that have increased up to tenfold within a few years and they are without the means to replace animals they depend on.

This emerging trade is, essentially, a fur trade with animal skins being sourced for human beauty. However while furs are visible, the role of donkey skins in ejiao products is invisible to the end user, mirroring the invisibility of the trade and donkeys themselves.

Under The Skin: Donkeys in Crisis

Citation

Alex Mayers. 3 July 2017. Under The Skin: Donkeys in Crisis. Presented at Australasian Animal Studies Conference. (3 July - 5 July 2017). Adelaide, Australia.

Authors
Presentation details
Date presented: 
Monday 3 July 2017
Abstract

Increased levels of personal wealth in China are fuelling demand for luxury products including ejiao, a product made using donkey skin. A traditional medicine, ejiao’s popularity is largely due to its reported anti-aging properties. Demand for donkey skins to produce ejiao is conservatively estimated at 4 million per year. This represents a significant proportion of the global donkey population of 44 million. China’s own donkey population has nearly halved in the last 20 years and entrepreneurs are now looking worldwide to satisfy a growing demand. Despite their essential role in livelihoods and 30 community resilience donkeys are largely invisible in livestock policies, livelihoods and humanitarian projects. It is therefore unsurprising that the emerging trade in skins is also invisible. Donkeys are frequently stolen from owners across Africa and illegally slaughtered in the bush; only the skins are removed and carcasses left to rot. In other areas, donkeys are bought at less than current market value and are transported in inhumane conditions to recently built legal slaughterhouses. In the short term donkey owners are facing donkey prices that have increased up to tenfold within a few years and they are without the means to replace animals they depend on. The invisibility of the trade is compounded by illegitimate export practices and criminal gangs. Due to the lucrative market for skins intensive farms are present in China and are likely to expand to other countries. Such rearing creates significant welfare concerns for a species poorly adapted to intensive practices. Australia has been exploring harvesting feral donkeys in the Northern Territories, possibly including some considered by indigenous communities to be owned and with cultural significance. This demand risks the welfare of donkeys, the communities who live with them, and, within a few decades, perhaps the species as a whole.

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