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.