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International trade

Killing donkeys

by Maxwell Suuk


Donkeys are becoming scarce in Ghana. The reason is that donkey skins are being exported to China as an ingredient for the production of a medicinal product called “ejiao”. Donkey meat is sold to Chinese companies as well. The demand is so strong that thousands of animals have recently been slaughtered in West Africa – even though they are badly needed in agriculture.

Gabriel Ayalizoya owns a donkey slaughterhouse at a tiny community called Doba in the Upper East Region of Ghana. He has been doing this kind of work for six years. He is 29 years old and says he buys the donkeys from many sources. Donkeys and cows are reared in his town, and they are also reared in Burkina Faso, the neighbouring country. “We travel to Burkina to buy donkeys,” he says. Burkina actually stopped exporting donkey skin in 2016, so the business moved to Ghana.

Akasoma James is an elderly man who rears donkeys in Doba. He says due to the sharp rise in demand, there have been many cases of animal theft in recent times: “They have stolen my donkeys, directly from my yard. They came at midnight and took some away.”

Doba alone has three donkey slaughterhouses. Each butchers at least 15 donkeys per day. A good donkey costs up to 800 Ghanaian Cedis (the equivalent of around $ 200).

Blue Coast Ghana Company is a private-sector business in the town of Walewale in northern Ghana. It processes donkey meat and is owned by Chinese investors. It employs about 100 young men from the area and it promises to hire more. A security guard says that 140 to 150 donkeys are killed here every day.

According to the last donkey census carried out in 2015, Ghanaians owned some 14,500 donkeys. Due to the slaughter, the number has declined sharply. The Ghana Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (SPCA) is deeply concerned that the donkeys are on the way to getting extinct in Ghana. “Before, donkeys weren’t killed in large scale like now,” says Amasaba Abdul-Yakeen Aluizah, the SPCA Coordinator. “The skin and meat trade to China have caused the sharp rise in the killing.”

The Chinese medicine “ejiao” is supposed to cure sleeplessness and blood-circulation problems. The animal-protection organisation PETA estimates that 1.8 million donkeys are killed per year in China alone to produce the raw material for this medicinal product.

Currently, Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture has placed a ban on the donkey trade. But due to lack of enforcement, the trade is still strong in several regions of the country.

According to SPCA, more than donkey welfare is at stake if the law is not enforced. The non-governmental activists point out that “Ghana’s poorest citizens who rely on donkeys for farming activities and the transportation of goods, especially in rural areas, are going to be affected in a catastrophic way”.

Maxwell Suuk is a journalist and lives in northern Ghana.
[email protected]

Ghana Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (SPCA):


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