Mon, Dec 25, 2017 - Page 8 News List

A donkey’s tale

Prices for Nigeria’s beasts of burden soars due to rampant Chinese demand for their skins

AFP, Nigeria

Donkey hides are in high demand in China due to their alleged medicinal properties, causing their prices to soar in Nigeria.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Abubakar Ya’u digs sand from vast, sweeping dunes and loads heavy hessian sacks of the fine, golden bounty onto the backs of donkeys which carry it to market.

Rampant demand for the beasts of burden in China, where their skins are believed to have medicinal properties, has caused prices to soar — creating a dilemma for Ya’u and his fellow excavators in Kano, northern Nigeria.

“Two years ago we were buying donkeys strong enough for our trade for between 15,000 and 18,000 naira (between US$42 and US$50) — but now to get a good donkey you will require 70,000 to 75,000,” he said, wearing dusty sandals, jeans and a T-shirt.

“The reason for this is the huge purchase of donkeys which are transported to the south where their meat is consumed and their skin exported,” he explained.

“To us, it is a calamity because as a sand digger if you lose your donkey, you can hardly raise the money to replace it.”

Fellow sand digger Abdurrahman Garba, who has been in the business for 30 years, added that export bans by some of Nigeria’s neighbours had made the situation worse.

“Now that Niger has banned donkey exports to save its stock, the Chinese have turned to our stock — depleting them at an alarming rate,” said Garba, 40.

Botswana, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Gambia all impose restrictions on the trade, while Zimbabwean authorities blocked a private donkey slaughterhouse under construction and Ethiopia closed its only functioning abattoir.

CHINESE ‘MEDICINE’

Garba admitted that the temptation to sell the animals for short-term gain could be overwhelming.

“I was offered 95,000 naira for my biggest donkey but I fought hard to resist the temptation to sell it because I knew I will not be able to replace it,” he said. “We blame the Chinese for this disturbing situation.”

The animals are increasingly being transported, sometimes covertly, from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria to the southeast where they are then typically slaughtered.

Donkeys are relatively cheaper in the Muslim-majority north as they are typically not slaughtered for their meat, tempering demand. But the north-south trade route for donkeys was already well established as consumption has traditionally been relatively high in the south where some communities have long eaten the animals. At a market in Ughelli, Delta State — the center of the Nigerian donkey trade — hundreds of donkeys are crammed into pens under the burning sun as they await their fate. Some are skeletally thin, all are quiet.

New animal pens are being made every month as the demand for donkey hides and meat is met with an steadily growing supply from the north.

From Delta state on Nigeria’s southern coast, hides are shipped to China where they are stewed to render the coveted gelatin known as ejiao (阿膠) in Chinese.

The buyers, who believe that soluble ejiao gum is an effective remedy for troubles ranging from colds to aging, comprise a market thought to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

“The medicine is popularly referred to as a blood tonic and helps to fortify the body, particularly in conditions like anaemia,” said Oliver Emekpor, a butcher handling donkey meat at the Ughelli market.

“It comes in blocks of dried pieces which are melted down into a brew of herbal mixture to drink and sells for up to US$390 per kilo.”

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