Following increasing pressure and protests from donkey owners in the country, the Republic of Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives on Feb. 24 placed a ban on donkey slaughter, but the welfare of the animals was not the impetus for the ban. Instead, cabinet secretary Peter Munya cited economic reasons, stating on the ministry’s website, “Slaughter of donkeys and trade in related donkey products has promoted vices like stealing of donkeys, wanton and unmitigated slaughter of donkeys, which has led to drastic reduction in the donkey population. This has, consequently, impacted negatively on the economic welfare and the livelihoods of the families of those who rely on donkeys for transport and as a means of facilitating trade.”

Munya also noted that if this trend continued, the donkey population would be decimated and the economy subsequently affected in a major way. Donkeys are a valuable commodity for farmers who rely on them for transport, farm work, and milk. “The theft of donkeys has particularly disenfranchised farmers who use the donkeys to transport proceeds from farms or fetch water from considerably long distances,” Munya said.

There are four donkey slaughterhouses in Kenya which have been given 28 days to adjust thair facilities to only handle cows, sheep, and chickens. From April 2016 to December 2018, the four abattoirs have processed 301,977 donkeys, in part for their meat but more specifically for their hides to satisfy the huge Chinese demand for ejiao (eh-gee-yow), a hard, gelatin-based product rendered from the skins that can be dissolved in hot water or alcohol to be used in food, drink, or face creams. Ejiao is purported to improve blood circulation, help people with anemia as a blood tonic, or those with reproductive problems. Currently, the industry requires nearly 5 million donkey hides a year.

The slaughter ban may seem like a positive step for donkey welfare, but critics caution that the demand for skin will continue unchecked and lead to more theft, bush killings or live transport under horrific conditions to neighbouring countries where slaughter is still legal.