More than 4,000 donkeys have died as a result of a Strangles outbreak in Niger, a country in West Africa.

At the start of December, reports indicated that around 8,000 donkeys had contracted the highly contagious bacterial infection. Within the first 10 days of the month, more than half of the affected animals had died in the northern part of the country, in Agadez.

According to the government’s minister for pastoral issues, Mohamed Boucha, who visited Agadez to assess the impact of the outbreak, the Ingal area was hit the hardest.

Boucha described seeing bodies “littering the pastureland and the watering holes,” and noted that “there is a real danger of contamination spreading through the area.” The government is offering free immunizations to help stop the spread of the disease.

Donkeys serve an important role as transportation for people in Niger. There are estimated to be about 1.5 million in the country – one of the poorest in the world. In 2016, the government imposed strict slaughter and export bans to save them animals from being killed in large numbers for their meat, and to stop them from being sent to Nigeria, where their skins are sold to China for in Traditional Chinese Medicine.