Donkey Slaughter Will Lead to Donkey Extinction
Donkey slaughter will lead to donkey extinction in Kenya according to animal welfare organizations in Kenya. The commercial trade of donkeys has led to their over-exploitation and abuse, with many being used as working animals in the agricultural industry. This treatment has resulted in a decline in donkey populations, which is now leading to their extinction. If this trend continues, donkeys will become extinct within 10 years in Kenya.
A look at the donkey slaughter industry in Kenya and how it is leading to the extinction of donkeys in the country.
The Kenyan Government carried out a national population census in 2009. For the first time, animals were also counted. At the time, the donkey population stood at 1.8 million donkeys. Most of these donkeys were located in the expansive Rift valley, Eastern and North Eastern provinces with some being sourced both legally and illegally from Ethiopia. The donkeys would be trucked with no food or water for 1,100km to reach the border post in Moyale. They were then walked across the border before being trucked again to Goldox slaughterhouse in Baringo County or Star Brilliant slaughterhouse in Naivasha, in Nakuru County.
Donkeys are mainly used as draught animals to provide cheap transport services to many rural homes. They are also a source of livelihood for urban and peri-urban residents.
While most donkeys in rural areas are used as pack animals to carry goods on their back, most residents in Moyale that borders Ethiopia use them to transport goods commercially.
In 2012, the Government of Kenya amended the Meat Act Cap 356 allowing donkeys to be considered food animals under a declaration based on a legal notice that was gazetted in 1999. Though never perceived as a food animal, donkey slaughter was to increase food options for Kenyan citizens. The gazetting would also allow the government to regulate and ensure the public safety of donkey meat being slaughtered among the Turkana community. The Turkana community considers donkey meat a delicacy, especially during severe drought seasons.
In April 2016, an abattoir, Goldox, was successfully opened and licensed to operate in Baringo with a capacity to slaughter 400 donkeys a day. In the same year, another abattoir, Star Brilliant was opened in Naivasha with a capacity to slaughter over 200 donkeys a day. The third donkey abattoir; Silzha, was licensed to operate in Turkana County during the same year. The fourth abattoir; Fuhai Trading Company in Kithyoko, Machakos County was opened in 2018, with a slaughter capacity of over 250 donkeys a day.
Studies have shown that donkey skin is in high demand in China for the making of traditional medicine known as ejiao, mainly known to treat medical illnesses. It is after highly consuming their donkeys and significantly reducing the number of donkeys, that the Chinese reportedly started targeting donkeys from other parts of the world, mainly Africa.
No sooner had the abattoirs been licensed than, the donkey owners came up with complaints of donkey theft, where some even found their donkeys skinned and killed. The year 2017 became a year of public outcry, complaints and petitions to the government as donkey theft became a menace in many parts of the country. This was pointed to the donkey slaughterhouses.
In three years of their operation, the donkey populations were already diminishing due to the wanton slaughter of donkeys way above the permitted capacity, forcing the donkey abattoir operators to seek alternative means of sourcing for donkeys. The abattoir operators started looking outside the borders for donkeys to supplement the diminishing Kenyan donkey numbers. Due to the scarcity, donkey prices also went up from Ksh. 4,000 - 5,000 in 2016 to Ksh. 10,000 - 20,000 in 2018, an indication of how scarce the donkeys had become. This posed a major socio-economic challenge to the rural communities that depend on donkeys for their livelihoods. They could barely afford to purchase the donkeys which perform a myriad of tasks that include: the transport of foodstuffs, water, firewood, construction materials and farm produce to various destinations. Donkeys are also used for domestic and commercial purposes to generate income for households. Donkey slaughter and skin trade, therefore, critically undermines the livelihoods of donkey reliant households. The slaughterhouses also posed a great challenge to animal welfare due to poor animal handling and slaughter practices, environmental pollution and flouting of animal welfare laws, prompting constant brawls between them and animal welfare organizations.
As donkey populations in the country continued to diminish, the slaughterhouse operators sought alternative means of ferrying the donkeys through borders such as the Ethiopia – Kenya border illegally. Donkey smugglers from Ethiopia avoided the formal border points that link the two neighbouring countries, by using other unofficial routes where there were no border patrols to illegally smuggle the donkeys from Ethiopia for sale to Kenyan abattoirs.
While this was happening, the current Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Peter Munya, gave a directive in February 2020 for the four abattoirs to stop operations and revoked their export licenses, meaning a ban on the commercial slaughter of donkeys. The illegal donkey trade, however, continued through the bush slaughter of donkeys that was witnessed at a very high level that had never been seen before. Donkeys could be stolen, illegally skinned, and their carcasses left to rot, posing environmental and public health hazards. The donkey meat could then find its way into the beef market, disguised as legally slaughtered and inspected meat animal.
Due to the above, various animal welfare organizations are putting efforts into engaging different stakeholders such as the media, in order to bring this trade to a halt as it is not sustainable. The trade also has negative impacts on the environment, donkey populations, donkey welfare and community livelihoods.
More needs to be done to protect donkeys in Kenya and prevent them from being slaughtered. This could include creating laws to protect donkeys and providing financial assistance to donkey owners.
There is also a need to increase awareness about the issue and make people more aware of the cruelty involved in donkey slaughter. Another solution is to enforce bans on donkey slaughter, which would help to stop the practice from happening. There are also a number of ways that organisations can help to stop donkey slaughter, by providing education and support to those working to end the practice. Finally, it is important for governments to invest in programs that help farmers adopt alternative livelihoods for their animals so that they no longer need donkeys.