Nairobi — Kenya’s population of donkeys is under threat after the High Court lifted a 2020 ban on donkey slaughterhouses, allowing them to resume selling the meat and hides to Asian markets.
The high price for donkey hides for use in Chinese medicine has led to donkey poaching and sparked fears the animals could eventually go extinct.
Kilena Simeon, a Masai farmer living in the border county of Kajiado, drives her herd of donkeys in search of pasture. For years, she says, women like her have relied on the donkeys to ease the burden of labor in their homes and on their farms.
“We get our earnings from our donkeys. We use them to help us in our work. We fetch water with them, we carry luggage, we fetch fodder for our calves, and sometimes we sell them to earn money to educate our children,” she said.
This reliable source of labor is now under threat once again. In early March, Kenya’s High Court lifted a ban on the slaughter of donkeys for both meat and hide for medicine in the Asian market.
Donkey slaughter was legalized in Kenya in 2012, leading to a rapid decimation of the animal’s population and cross-border theft. Josiah Ojwang, the program’s director for the African Network for Animal Welfare, says these developments are likely to reoccur.
“There were many issues that were coming up of donkey theft, of slaughtering of underage donkeys, of cross-border smuggling of donkeys, but most importantly, communities were losing their livelihoods, because abattoirs were slaughtering very many donkeys a day, much more than naturally the donkeys can replenish,” Ojwang said.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics said in 2019 that the country’s donkey population had decreased over the previous 10 years, from 1.8 million donkeys in 2009 to 1.17 million in 2019.
Ojwang says this figure is expected to decline even further with the renewed slaughter of the most significant and profitable domestic animals in Kenya.
“These slaughterhouses were slaughtering about 200 donkeys a day, sometimes 250, but they have an installed capacity of about 1,000, so if you look at even our country’s population, if they continue slaughtering at that rate, which is too high, it will be a few short years before the population of donkeys in Kenya gets almost decimated,” he said.
Kenya has four donkey abattoirs spread across four counties. The four haven’t resumed operations yet, as they are waiting to get approved by the licensing authorities.
When that happens, activists say, donkey numbers will resume their downward slide, presenting a real problem for rural women of the country and the region.