Australian Senators Aim to Stop Live Donkey Trade Before it Starts
Two Australian senators have introduced a bill that would prohibit the live export of horses, donkeys and ponies for overseas slaughter.
The Export Control Amendment (Equine Live Export for Slaughter Prohibition) Bill 2018 was introduced by Senators Derryn Hinch and Lee Rhiannon, and it has been welcomed by animal welfare organization, the RSPCA.
The demand from overseas interests, especially China, to obtain donkey skin, is rising – with wild and domestic donkey populations all over the world being decimated as a result. In traditional Chinese medicine, a combination of herbs and gelatin from donkey skin is made into a tonic known as “ejaio.”
Currently, it is estimated that nearly two million donkey skins are traded each year globally for this purpose, with the actual demand estimated to be double this. China is the main consumer of this product, but markets in other countries are emerging. Given this high demand, the value and price of donkeys has increased substantially, leading to illegal activities with suppliers sourcing donkeys from wherever they can. As a consequence, donkeys are being mustered, stolen, traded and slaughtered (often inhumanely) all over the world, with some donkey populations declining rapidly as a result.
In 2017, the Donkey Sanctuary, a U.K.-based donkey welfare organization, published a review of the trade which described the donkey skin trade as a human and animal welfare crisis. Thousands of villagers in Africa who rely upon their donkeys to cart water and other goods now face severe hardship due to donkey theft. In response, several countries have taken action to stop the trade with bans in place in Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegar, and recently Ethiopia closed its only operational slaughterhouse. In 2015, Pakistan became the first Asian country to ban the export of donkey hides.
The high demand for donkey skins has led feral donkeys in Australia being considered as a potential source of skins. Although feral donkeys are classified as a pest animal and reported to occur in high numbers in parts of northern Australia, current population estimates are difficult to obtain, raising doubts over the viability of establishing an industry relying upon an accessible supply of donkeys. In addition, there is little recent evidence quantifying the level of damage that donkeys pose to justify their mass removal for slaughter, says the RSPCA.
Currently, the main method used to control feral donkeys is in situ aerial shooting, but because the gelatin obtained from donkey skin is destined for human consumption, donkeys intended for this purpose must be killed at an accredited abattoir. As the donkey skin trade is such a lucrative market, other options being considered include live export and farming of donkeys.
Mustering, transporting, slaughtering or live export of feral donkeys all pose significant animal welfare risks, says the RSPCA. Donkeys require special handling and can be extremely resistant to being moved or loaded. Donkeys also require a higher standard of care compared to routinely farmed species such as sheep or cattle, including the need for regular dental, coat and hoof care. There are also concerns that as the required product is extracted from the skin, donkeys will not be provided with the same level of care and nutrition required for meat-producing animals.
The issue took on greater urgency when it was revealed in a 2017 Senate Estimates hearing that the Department of Agriculture was preparing regulatory changes to facilitate live export of equines such as ponies, horses and donkeys.
The new Bill will prohibit new live export markets from being created and stop Australian horses and donkeys – that have been taken from the wild, retired from the racing industry or bought from their owners – from being sent on a live export voyage to be slaughtered in foreign countries.
The Bill follows the tabling of a Senate petition in September last year of more than 21,000 concerned Australians that called on the Australian Government to expressly prohibit the live export of all equines for the purposes of slaughter, and to reject any initiatives that would facilitate the development of a live export trade.
The Export Control Amendment (Equine Live Export for Slaughter Prohibition) Bill will be introduced into the Senate this week.
Rhiannon said: “Numerous countries are now banning the donkey and horse live export trade. Since Pakistan banned the export of donkey hides in 2015, nine African governments have followed suit banning donkey skin exports. Brazil is also considering a ban. Low income countries are fighting this trade. Their impoverished communities, who rely on donkeys as transport for water and goods, and as agricultural beasts of burden, have been priced out of ownership and had their animals stolen since this trade took off. We should stand with these countries.
“We don’t want donkeys to suffer or life made harder for poor communities, and we don’t want people conned into wasting their money on Ejiao.
“The live export industry is a business model unavoidably built on the suffering of animals. We have a responsibility to prevent the expansion of that industry to include donkeys and horses.”