Donkey business: As local numbers dwindle, China kickstarts global donkey-purchasing initiative to maintain supply of traditional medicine ejiao

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The humble donkey faces almost certain extinction in China due to their highly sought-after hide, which is used to manufacture the traditional medicine ejiao.

Ejiao is a product refined from the skin of a dead donkey, turned into a sweet tasting, gelatinous substance, and used in traditional Chinese medicine. Diluted in either hot wine or water and drunk, the remedy supposedly helps with ailments such as irregular menstruation, bleeding, dizziness, insomnia, and dry cough. Ejiao is also served as an edible snack, usually coating almonds and sesame seeds.

The real stuff is considered a luxury good though, which led to the proliferation of poor quality imitations sold via the black market. The skin of mules, horses, pigs, and even old shoes, according to some, was used in the manufacture of these lesser quality ‘ejiao-like‘ products.

The demand for this highly popular remedy however caused the unintended consequence of the systematic decimation of donkeys in China to historically low levels. Conservative estimations say that around five million specimens have been killed over the last 20 years, bringing the total numbers to about 6 million at present.

Consequently, China is now reaching out to global markets in an effort to acquire as many donkeys as possible to maintain its hugely profitable ejiao trade.

However, many countries around the world have been forced to curtail their donkey exports, as China’s seemingly inexhaustible demand for the animals began to put a strain on local donkey populations.

China’s demand for more donkeys to maintain the supply of ejiao is unlikely to end any time soon, and the very existence of the species hangs in the balance as a result.

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