Donkeys in Mainland China: Facts and Welfare Issues

September 7, 2021Zihao Yu

Introduction

Donkeys were widely used in China as working animals for transportation and agriculture activities in the past decades. With the development and industrialization of agricultural facilities, fewer donkeys are used as working animals than before. However, more donkeys are used for food or traditional medicine nowadays.

Traditional livestock

According to the National livestock and poultry genetic resources catalog 2020, donkeys are considered as one of the traditional livestock species in mainland China. The regulation of the livestock and poultry under the catalog 2020 shall be based on the People's Republic of China Animal Husbandry Law 2015.

Traditional livestock and poultry are the main components of Chinese animal husbandry production, mainly used to produce meat, milk, and eggs. The total meat production of traditional livestock and poultry consists of 99% of Chinese total meat production, 100% of the milk and eggs are supplied by traditional livestock and poultry. There are 17 species of traditional livestock and poultry according to the official source, which are pigs, ordinary cattle, tumor cows, bovine, yak, big cows, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, camels, rabbits, chickens, ducks, goose, pigeons, and quails.

China has a long history of raising donkeys but donkeys are only a small part of the livestock in mainland China. At the end of 2018, there were 2.53 million donkeys in mainland China, consisting of 5.74% of donkeys in the world. The donkey population in mainland China has fallen by 53.12% from 2009 to 2018. Most donkeys in mainland China are raised in small-scale breeding facilities instead of large-scale facilities. According to one report in 2020, only 13% of the donkeys are raised in large-scale facilities, while 87% of the donkeys are raised in traditional small-scale facilities.

"Baby Donkey & Mom" by Arch_Sam is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Decreasing population

The number of donkeys in stock has dropped from 12 million in the 1990s to 6.4 million in 2012 and is still declining at a rate of about 300,000 per year. In 2017, the population was less than 5 million. There are around 1 million donkeys slaughtered each year.

There are 24 sub-species of donkeys in mainland China, which are Taihang donkey, Yangyuan donkey, Guangling donkey, Jinnan donkey, Linxian donkey, Kulun donkey, Biyang donkey, Qingyang donkey, Subei donkey, Huaibei Gray donkey, Dezhou donkey, Changyuan donkey, Chuan donkey, Yunnan donkey, Tibetan donkey, Guanzhong donkey, Jiami donkey, Shanbei donkey, Liangzhou donkey, Qinghai donkey, Xiji donkey, Hetian Gray donkey, Turfan donkey, and Xinjiang donkey.

Among these sub-species, according to the statistics in 2006, Jinnan donkey, Linxian donkey, Changyuan donkey are in the status of endangered; Huaibei Gray donkey is in the status of endangered-stable. For most of the sub-species, the population has decreased significantly from the 1980s to 2006.

There are a series of reasons for the decline in the number of the population of donkeys. First, with the improvement of agricultural mechanization and improvement in rural living conditions, donkeys used as working animals are replaced by agricultural machines. Besides, under the requirements of national environmental protection, the scale of farming is reduced and fewer donkeys are needed.


Second, the economic value of raising donkeys is low compared to other farmed animals due to the long breeding cycle. Using donkeys as a food source is no popular in many areas in China, and other values of the donkey have not been fully discovered. In other areas, however, the habits of eating donkey meat or using donkey skins for traditional medicines accelerate the decreasing of the population.

Commercial uses of donkeys

From 2006 to 2017, the prices of fattening donkeys, female donkeys, donkey skin, donkey meat, donkey-hide gelatin (ejiao) are growing, and the price of donkey products has reached peaks in 2017. The price of donkey skin has grown 20 times, and the price of Ejiao rose by nearly 15 times.

Donkey meat is a niche product, and most consumers are not enthusiastic about donkey meat. Hebei Province is not only the main consumption area of donkey meat but also the main fattening donkey breeding area. The price of donkey meat had been raising from 2006 to 2017, and the price has gone down a little bit since 2018.

The industry of donkey skin products or ejiao (donkey-hide gelatin) has been growing these years. The price of ejiao has reached the highest point of nearly 1,000$/kg in 2018. In 2015, only in Shandong Province, there were 81 companies for ejiao-made medicine, and 197 companies for ejiao-made food products. By the promotion of the Shandong Ejiao Association, the group standards of the ejiao relevant products were formulated in 2019. Learn more on ejiao here.

"donkey" by bagsgroove is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

International trade

According to a 2016 report from Xinhua, around 4 million donkey hides are needed each year to produce enough ejiao for the market in China, but the annual supply of donkeys from China is fewer than 1.8 million.

China mainly imports donkey skins from Egypt, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Mauritania, Kenya, Tanzania, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and other 13 countries. The export and smuggling of donkey skins have led to the excessive slaughter of donkeys in their producing areas, resulting in a rapid decline in the stock of donkeys. This chaos of private slaughter, indiscriminate slaughter, and theft of donkeys has not only aroused the dissatisfaction of local farmers but also attracted the strong attention of local governments and international animal protection organizations. Therefore, the governments of Pakistan, Senegal, Burkina, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Gambia, Ethiopia, Colombia, Tanzania, Botswana, Chad, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Sudan, Nigeria, and other countries, have either banned or regulated the trade, slaughter, or export of donkeys in their jurisdictions.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) warns that ‘the global donkey population is now at risk in 2019. Read more here.

Recent updates

Since 2020, the China Association for the Promotion of International Agricultural Cooperation (CAPIAC) has been drafting the document of “Best practice guide and code for donkey welfare feeding management” with the help of British Donkey Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare. In 2021, the third national general survey of livestock and poultry genetic resources is being conducted. However, as there is no animal welfare regulation in the Animal Husbandry Law 2015, donkeys are only protected as genetic resources and for the sake of product quality and safety. The welfare of donkeys is not protected in mainland China currently.

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