Last year, 53,947 horses were shipped from the United States to Mexico for slaughter. That marks a 26% decrease from 2018 when 70,708 horses designated for slaughter were transported across the southern U.S. border, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market News Livestock Export Summary.
Efforts to open new horse slaughter plants have been unsuccessful, partly because of legislation denying funds for federal inspections of such operations. Nevertheless, thousands of U.S. horses have been exported to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.
Canada and Mexico are two of the main exporters of horse meat to Europe. At least 85% of horses slaughtered at European Union–approved Canadian horse slaughterhouses originated in the United States, and 50% of the horse meat produced from those animals was exported to the EU.
Federal data on the number of horses transported to Canada annually aren’t available. However, the advocacy organization Animals’ Angels estimated that 12,273 U.S. horses were imported by Canada for slaughter in 2017.
California, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and New York have enacted laws against horse slaughter and eating horse meat.
While the Chinese government has announced a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals and the closure of all wildlife markets across the country, donkey skins continue to be exported to the country at a high rate.
“Over the last decade, there’s been a large increase in demand for Ejiao within medicinal and beauty products and this has had a devastating knock-on effect for global donkey populations,” Brooke’s veterinary adviser, Laura Skippen, says. Kenya has been hit the hardest, but it is a crisis across the continent. Conditions within the legal donkey skin trade still regularly contravene the international OIE standards for humane slaughter and transport of animals.
The illegal trade poses even greater welfare risks with donkeys transported for days without food or water. Methods of illegal slaughter are completely inhumane and also pose huge human health risks, with donkey carcasses not being disposed of correctly, which is a public health concern.
The trade of donkey skins has been linked to the spread of disease before.
In early 2019, equine influenza affected donkeys across seven West African countries, with up to 62,000 animals dying in Niger alone. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) suggested the outbreak may have been a consequence of the unregulated global movement and trading of donkeys for their skins. Brooke has also voiced fears for the spread of zoonotic diseases such as anthrax – which can pass between animals and humans.
Some countries, such as Senegal and Uganda, have responded by banning the export of donkey skins, but others, including Kenya, have kept the trade legal, meaning donkeys are being smuggled from neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania. All this is leading to a sharp decline in donkey populations and a catastrophic effect on communities.
New research into global donkey population trends has indicated that, following an explosion of trading in the animal's skins, the species could soon face population collapse.
British newspaper the Evening Standard reported on the study commissioned by animal welfare group The Donkey Sanctuary. It stated that the world population of the animals has declined precipitously in the last 25 years, and may face extinction in the foreseeable future.
Donkey skins are a key ingredient in animal gelatin, used as an ingredient called ejiao in traditional Chinese medicine. Among practitioners, ejiao is believed to have curative effects against dizziness, bleeding and insomnia, and often served dissolved in hot water or wine.
The study estimated that 4.8 million donkeys—more than 10 percent of the global population of 44 million—are killed every year to meet the demand for ejiao.
China's donkey population fell from 11 million in 1992 to 2.6 million in 2019, creating a market in other companies across the developing world.
"These dependable, hard working, sentient animals experience appalling suffering as a result of the activities of skin traders across the world. They are often transported long distances, without food,water or rest and they can be held for days in yards without shelter, before being slaughtered in often brutal conditions," The Donkey Sanctuary's CEO Mike Baker said in the report.
The slow reproductive cycle of the donkey has made it difficult to replenish their populations. A mother donkey carries her foal for a year, and the species has been known to encounter fertility issues in farm conditions.
Donkeys have long served as pack animals in many parts of the developing world, and owning one has often represented a path out of poverty for the most needy, providing an aid in physical labor for farming and transporting goods. But the demand for slaughtered animals has made acquiring them more difficult. The price of a donkey in Kenya, for instance, has more than doubled in the last three years.
Multiple African countries have already banned the export of donkey gelatin to China, including Niger, Uganda and Burkina Faso. Other nations, including Kenya and South Africa, are investing heavily in infrastructure and increasing donkey skin exports.
Chinese medicine has had detrimental effects on numerous other animal species. Rhinoceroses, which are killed for their horns, saw a tenfold increase in poaching deaths from 2008 to 2013 according to the South African Department of Animal Affairs. Meanwhile, China has begun efforts to adapt to the times, banning the import of tiger bones, which were previously a valuable medicinal ingredient, in 1993.