NAIROBI: Animal activists urged Kenya on Thursday to ban the slaughter of donkeys for use in Chinese medicine, a practice which has soared in recent years and decimated African populations of the animal.

Donkey skins are exported to China to make a traditional medicine known as ejiao, which is believed to improve blood circulation, slow ageing, and boost libido and fertility. It was once the preserve of emperors but is now highly sought after by a burgeoning middle-class.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said an investigation inside Kenyan slaughterhouses showed animals being cruelly beaten by workers, or dead after long truck journeys from neighbouring countries.

“PETA is calling for Kenya to join many other African nations in banning the slaughter of donkeys. There is simply no need for this cruelty, [the medicine] is not even something that has been shown to be effective,” said spokeswoman Ashley Fruno.

Several African countries have banned the export of donkey skins and closed Chinese-owned slaughterhouses, meaning thousands of the animals are now trucked long distances into Kenya from countries such as Ethiopia and Uganda.

Kenya’s Principal Secretary for Livestock Harry Kimutai said he had taken note of the report and “we wish to request PETA to provide us with details for us to take action.”

Alex Mayers of the UK-based animal welfare organisation The Donkey Sanctuary said stories about the trade first began emerging in 2016. In East Africa, there were an estimated 2.4 million donkeys, and between Kenya’s four slaughterhouses and illegal traders, an estimated 2,000 donkeys were killed daily, he added.

If this continues, donkeys in the region could be wiped out in four years, said Mayers, adding donkeys were not like cows or goats that can be intensively bred.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2019