Ejiao was once prescribed primarily to supplement lost blood and balance yin and yang, but today it is sought for a range of ills, from delaying aging and increasing libido to treating side effects of chemotherapy and preventing infertility, miscarriage and menstrual irregularity in women.
While ejiao has been around for centuries, its modern popularity began to grow around 2010, when companies such as Dong-E-E-Jiao — the largest manufacturer in China — launched aggressive advertising campaigns. Fifteen years ago, ejiao sold for $9 per pound in China; now, it fetches around $400 per pound.
As demand increased, China’s donkey population — once the world’s largest — has fallen to fewer than six million from 11 million, and by some estimates possibly to as few as three million. Attempts to replenish the herds have proved challenging: Unlike cows or pigs, donkeys do not lend themselves to intensive breeding. Females produce just one foal per year and are prone to spontaneous abortions under stressful conditions.
So Chinese companies have begun buying donkey skins from developing nations. Out of a global population of 44 million, around 1.8 million donkeys are slaughtered per year to produce ejiao, according to a report published last year by the Donkey Sanctuary, a nonprofit based in the United Kingdom.
“There’s a huge appetite for ejiao in China that shows no signs of diminishing,” said Simon Pope, manager of rapid response and campaigns for the organization. “As a result, donkeys are being Hoovered out of communities that depend on them.”
In November, researchers at the Beijing Forestry University warned that China’s demand for ejiao may cause donkeys “to become the next pangolin.”
“China chooses to import donkeys from all over the world at high cost, which may lead to potential crisis of donkeys throughout the rest of the world,” the researchers wrote in the Equine Veterinary Journal.
Donkey skins find their way to China from nations as varied as Kyrgyzstan, Brazil and Mexico. But Africa is the epicenter of the trade, both in terms of…