Dawn broke over Naivasha, Kenya. Joseph Kamonjo Kariuki woke to find his donkeys missing. He searched the bush. The villager depends on donkeys to deliver water for his living. Village children led Kariuki to an awful sight: On the ground lay three donkey heads.
“I was in shock,” says Kariuki. In his village, he is “Jose wa Mapunda,” Swahili for “Joseph of the Donkeys.” Kariuki believes someone killed his animals . . . for their skins.
It’s hard not to think of Balaam when discussing donkeys. Wicked Balaam thrashed his donkey for refusing to move. His actions revealed his rebellion, ignorance, and temper—and greatly displeased God. (Numbers 22:21-33)
The Bible speaks often about caring for animals—birds, mammals, fish, even creepy crawlies. In the beginning, God created the Earth and all animals to be under human authority and care. (Genesis 1:26) Sadly, humans often fail at being good caretakers. God is unhappy with anyone who exploits or abuses His creation or His creatures. (Proverbs 12:10)
Donkey killings in Africa aren’t for food. The abuse indulges a Chinese health craze. Ejiao (ee-jeOW) is a gelatin made from stewed donkey skins. Sometimes ejiao is dissolved in liquid; sometimes it’s mixed with seeds and nuts. Fans say ejiao provides health benefits like weight loss, longevity, and better sleep. Others—including China’s health agency—call eating donkey gelatin “superstitious.”
Shrinking donkey herds in China have driven ejiao producers to seek skins elsewhere. Animal rights groups say several African nations supply China with skins. Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Botswana have built government donkey slaughterhouses. Three licensed slaughterhouses in Kenya butcher 1,000 donkeys a day for China, says Calvin Onyango from Kenya’s Donkey Sanctuary.
But donkeys raised legally aren’t producing enough. Demand drives the price of donkey hides up. So, Onyango says, people steal donkeys. Sometimes they torture them, as with Joseph Kariuki’s animals. The thefts drive crime across Africa where many people rely on the animals for their livelihood. They also threaten the donkey population.
Not everyone is selling or stealing donkeys. “I like my donkeys,” says farmer Jeffrey Chingodza. “They help a lot and are dear to me.” Chingodza’s family keeps donkeys for work and transportation. He insists he won’t sell for export to China. His son Tawanda, however, says rising prices for donkey skins are tempting.
“What would you do?” Tawanda asks. “I will definitely sell. All of us want money.”