Ejiao: The Illegal Trade That’s Bringing Donkeys To The Brink Of Extinction

©Brooke: Action For Working Horses and Donkeys

If not stopped, donkeys could be extinct within the next 15 years. What can people in the United States do to help?


In some areas of the world, working equines are the foundation of financial stability and an important mode of transportation for families who would otherwise be entrenched in poverty. They assist with harvesting crops, carry water, deliver children to school, and bring food to market. Unfortunately, some of these working equines have become the target of a devasting international trade that is decimating their population and bankrupting families throughout Africa and Latin America.

For thousands of years, donkeys have been slaughtered throughout China to make ejiao (eh-gee-yow). This hard gelatin, curated from processed donkey hide, is often dissolved into beauty products, food and drinks. Despite no scientific proof, it is believed that ejiao increases blood circulation and can treat health issues such as anemia and reproductive problems. However, the demand for ejiao in China has far surpassed the supply. According to a study by The Donkey Sanctuary, since 1992 the number of donkeys in China has fallen by 76% and the global population of donkeys is expected to fall by over 50% within the next five years. If current trends persist, donkeys could be extinct within 15 years. 

©Brooke: Action For Working Horses and Donkeys

The Birth Of An Unregulated Trade

To meet the growing demand for donkey hides, an unregulated international trade system has emerged. Smugglers have been documented stealing donkeys from farming communities throughout several countries including Brazil, Pakistan, Kenya, Egypt, and other parts of Africa. Once stolen, the donkeys are packed onto large trucks and transported to the nearest processing facility where they are slaughtered using hammers, knives, guns, and other objects. Then, the bodies are stripped of their hides and left to rot. 

From the moment the donkeys are stolen, their journey is horrific. Because the value of the hide doesn’t increase if the donkey is in good health, they’re often deprived of food or water during transport and at the processing facilities. Photographs and videos have been taken of donkeys in transport with severed limbs, broken legs, and other debilitating injuries. Sick and pregnant donkeys are processed in the same manner as their cohorts and if a donkey gives birth at the processing facility, both her and the foal are killed. 

In addition to the animal welfare concerns, the unregulated and inhumane harvest of donkey hides carries other issues. Because sick donkeys often cross international borders, many leaders are concerned that diseases such as anthrax, which is a zoonotic disease, could e spread to vulnerable populations. Furthermore, the demand for donkey skins has financially devasted hundreds of farming communities and launched entire families into poverty.

©Brooke: Action For Working Horses and Donkeys

Superheroes For Animal Welfare

The numbers may look bleak, but several organizations are working tirelessly to end the illegal donkey skin trade. The Donkey Sanctuary and The Brooke have been at the forefront of studying the impact the donkey hide industry has had on the global economy and animal welfare. 

“From my perspective, it’s not just about the donkey slaughter. It’s the significant harm being put on impoverished global communities. In order to fill the need for donkey skins, you’ve got the decimation of the donkey population in Africa and Latin America. These donkeys are providing livelihoods and significant support to families and communities. When the donkeys aren’t there anymore, it’s a huge hardship.” Says Alfonso Lopez, a Federal Advocacy Consultant for the United States-based branch of The Brooke, Brooke USA.

The Impact Of A Global Economy

Surprisingly, the United States is the third-largest consumer of ejiao in the world. It can even be bought on Amazon. The ability to easily buy this product online may be one of the reasons for the increased demand, and it’s one of the sources Brooke USA is aiming to end. Despite Amazon’s stated commitment to “building a sustainable business for employees, customers and communities,” the demand for ejiao is driving donkeys to extinction. 

Representatives from Brooke USA have been in communication with Amazon executives and encouraged them to follow sustainability practices by banning the sale of ejiao on their platform. Brooke USA has also introduced legislation to the U.S. Congress, named The Ejiao Act, that would ban the knowing sale and transport of ejiao in addition to products that use ejiao. 

Other countries are taking notice of this issue, too. 18 countries globally have taken steps to ban or limit the sale of ejiao within their borders, but it’s difficult to enforce.

©Brooke: Action For Working Horses and Donkeys

Technology Is Working Towards A Solution

There’s hope that in the future, ejiao will be manufactured without the use of donkey hide. Cellular agriculture has made great strides to grow animal products from cells instead of harvesting the entire animal. Several years ago, scientists at the University of Barcelona were able to successfully produce horse skin using cellular agriculture. Research is also being done into the use of fish scales or plant matter to produce the gelatin needed for ejiao. Unfortunately, the demand for ejiao made with donkey hides far surpasses the demand for ejiao made with other products.

What Can People In The United States Do?

While this issue may feel far away to people living in the United States, advocates from Brooke USA say there’s a lot that Americans can do to stop the illegal donkey skin trade. Individuals can support Brooke USA’s effort to end the sale of ejiao on Amazon by sending a letter to Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon. Individuals can also call their congress members and encourage them to become cosponsors of The Ejiao Act.

Most importantly, people are encouraged to speak with their friends and family members to raise awareness of this issue before donkeys go extinct. 

You can learn more about how to contact Mr. Jassy and your local congress members by visiting www.Brookeusa.org/advocacy.