Horse News

Brazil Debates Fate of Millions of Idled Donkeys

APODI, Brazil—The dependable donkey once did it all here in northeast Brazil, from hauling in the harvest to carrying children to remote schoolhouses. Now so many of these ubiquitous beasts of burden populate this vast swath of rural Brazil that they have become a problem—and for some, an opportunity.

Modernity and the skyrocketing sale of motorcycles have demoted the burro from its long-held status. Once cherished here for their hardy load-carrying, donkeys are increasingly seen as a nuisance as they saunter into traffic or munch greenery in people’s yards.

“Today, a donkey is born and nobody wants it,” lamented Eribaldo Nobre, 53, whose family used donkeys to lug fresh water home when he was a child. “Progress made this animal worthless.”

Enter China, where soaring demand for protein has put donkey meat on the menu. But Chinese consumers hanker after more than just the meat. They also have a growing craving for ejiao, a gelatinous substance made from boiled donkey hides, which is said to boost health, reverse aging and serve as an aphrodisiac.

Brazil, with 1 million donkeys and world-class slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants, is now looking to cash in. The plans to do so have touched off an emotional struggle between those who see donkeys as animals to exploit, even to consume, and those who want to protect what they see as a steadfast emblem of Brazilian rural life.

The front line of that fight lies here in the northeast, where 90% of Brazil’s donkeys can be found meandering among small farming communities.

“Donkeys are a symbol of Brazil’s northeast,” said Geuza Leitão, president of an animal-rights group in Ceará state north of here and author of “Your Excellency, The Donkey,” a book eulogizing the humble burro. “We want them to leave the donkey alone.”

A slaughterhouse focusing on donkey-derived exports to China is being built here just outside of Apodi, a town of 36,000 where donkeys often impede the very cars and motorcycles that made them obsolete. It will be the second donkey abattoir designed with the Chinese market in mind, after a facility in Bahia started small-scale donkey slaughtering last year in a pilot program that Brazilian and Chinese officials hope will soon expand.

“We want to open the door to this market as soon as possible,” said Luis Rangel, an official at Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry who oversees safety standards and has been working with Chinese officials to further exports. “We’re looking for new agricultural products, because we’re already champions in the traditional ones,” he added, referring to Brazil’s huge cattle industry.

Brazil hasn’t yet issued the sanitary licenses necessary to enable regular shipments of donkey products to China, nor has China approved the import of products from the two donkey slaughterhouses. But both sides are so confident that shipments of donkey products to China will begin later this year that they are already hatching joint plans to go beyond the current feral or semi-feral population and genetically improve donkeys, which have long gestation periods and don’t lend themselves to large-scale production like cattle.

The Chinese government and Dong-E-E-Jiao Co., one of the country´s largest ejiao producers, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In some parts of the world, China’s appetite for donkey meat and hides is viewed with revulsion. Several African countries that had been big providers of donkeys have recently prohibited donkey sales. According to a report by the Donkey Sanctuary, a British animal-rights group, those animals were often stolen before their skins were shipped to China.

The demand for ejiao has caused China’s own donkey population, once the world’s largest, to fall by nearly half to 6 million animals since 1990. More than 1.8 million donkey skins are traded annually, according to the Donkey Sanctuary, which estimates a market for some 10 million hides a year.

Some here see northeastern Brazil filling the void, but there is ample resistance to the notion in a place where people have a special place in their hearts for the burro. Singers have dedicated ballads to them in this region, where donkeys, not dogs, are considered man’s best friend.

José Sena de Lima, who is 96, still keeps three donkeys on the ranch where he lives near Apodi. When the family house was built in the 1930s, he said, his father had the help of two donkeys and a mule.

“If you didn’t own a donkey, you would often have to carry stuff on your own back,” said Mr. de Lima, who still talks about the animals with gratitude.

Adailton Torres Filho, 53, remembered how his baby sister, suffering from a nutritional deficiency, got stronger when their parents fed her donkey milk.

But there are also cautionary tales about the out-of-control population. Geneclayton de Gois Almeida, 40, a veterinarian, said his father was killed 20 years ago when his car hit a donkey lying on the road after having been hit by another vehicle. “In the northeast, we all know someone who was involved in a car accident somehow related to a donkey,” he said.

 Those hoping to save the animals from the slaughterhouse are seeking ways to make them worth more alive than dead.Adroaldo Zanella, a professor at the University of São Paulo veterinary and animal-science shool, is working with a student researching the viability of milking donkeys, with an eye taking advantage of the liquid’s high nutritional content and pleasant flavor to help infants with special nutritional needs and children who have trouble digesting cow’s milk.

“Donkey milk is very close to human milk in terms of nutritional value,” Mr. Zanella said, adding that it sells in Europe for 15 to 20 times more than cow’s milk. Given that donkeys can be had for free here, Mr. Zanella said, a startup farm to produce donkey milk could work in Brazil, too.

In Ceará state, where the road department spends nearly $1 million a year to collect burros and other animals wandering on roadsides, road superintendent Igor Vasconcelos Ponte said he was considering creating a visitation center for veterinary students and others interested in researching the animals on the ranch near Santa Quintéria where they are kept.

The ranch could even become a tourist attraction, he said, having noticed how Brazilians from other parts of the country like to pose for pictures when they see the donkeys here.

“It’s as if they were in Australia and found a kangaroo,” Mr. Ponte said.

11 replies »

  1. Our pro horse slaughter rhetoric is all they are quoting. The mindless, hooves hatred they read online spread by pro horse slaughter. The rhetoric of unwanted, useless, unloved, expensive…….so on. There’s been patches of the propaganda spreading in the other countries because Duquette is desperate and out of ideas, literally the WILD Horses are the last idea in the US. The Dead horse train is slowly grinding to a halt, however, the grinders in foreign countries are inflating their numbers, articulating negative propaganda and killing what they can to hide in the Food Chain.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the World has gone crazy. The Burro was one of Christ’s beloved animals. And if the begin this giant slaughter of the Burros, they will be sorry. They will bring such bad Karma to Brazel that they will be sorry. And the.Chinese think everything is a aphrodisiac! They are.a bunch of very sick people. Now take our country. We import beef from South.America. So us going to know its not Burro/Donkey meat! We are no better in this country! We have an Administration that’s hell bent on destroying our country and the animals in it! Doesn’t sound familiar. Didn’t some with the BLM or the Interior Dept mentioning sending our Burros to foreign countries to do work. Hate to say it was probably to send them there for slaughter. The.whole World is sickening!


    • Ironically they hung Christ. No matter what they seemed to be moving towards extinction purposefully. They actually would sell their own soul for a piece of gold!


  3. What can we do?
    Does anyone have a list of products and manufacturers and retailers that we can contact and send messages to assist in voicing our demands to stop their involvement with this horrible product?

    Two organizations that have helped to stop selling this product:

    The largest equine welfare charity in the world, The Donkey Sanctuary, has successfully lobbied eBay to immediately stop selling the traditional Chinese medicine ejiao, which contains gelatin from donkey skin and is alleged to offer anti-ageing properties. The Donkey Sanctuary’s CEO, Mike Baker, wrote to eBay’s President on Friday 8 December 2017. eBay responded immediately to say they would stop selling ejiao following the charity’s intervention.

    After being contacted by PETA, Walmart-owned online retailer, and a number of other U.S.-based companies—including eBay, Acupuncture Atlanta, Fresh Bites Basket, Grocery Grove, Magical Chefs, Maxnature, Stocked Farm,Chef Masterpiece, C. A. I. Corporation, Acu-Market, Good Price Appliances, VitaminLife, and HerbalShop—pledged to remove all products containing ejiao—a traditional Chinese “medicine” made from gelatin extracted from boiled donkey hides—immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am puzzled why the donkeys are being blamed for vehicles hitting them sometimes on the roads. The example given was one already struck and immobilized was hit by a second car and the driver killed. This is of course all horrifying, but in the USA one of the guiding principles of driving is that you will be ticketed if you “fail to observe” as in tailgating etc.

    A donkey laying injured on the road cannot move away, but in this example both drivers failed, not the donkey. Using this sort of example to cite killing more animals also fails to address the human error causing the problems. If we empty our entire planet of all other life forms, we will still be killing each other with our own cars.


    • Lately lots of articles Blaming WILD Horses surfaced in order to provide Duquette with Yet Another Fact of why to kill them. The blame is game is as old an excuse as you can find, blame anyone but themselves. Not saying accidents don’t truly occur, however, if it’s limited vision you slow down more, if it’s weatger, you slow down, if it’s running animals your supposed to be alert and aware of the surroundings. The offset is to blame the animals.


  5. Chinese Youth Embrace New Attitudes Toward Pets and Wildlife

    Another sign of changing times: China is set to close down its domestic ivory market, widely believed to be the biggest in the world and responsible in large part for driving Africa’s elephant poaching crisis.

    “It’s exciting news,” says Toby Zhang of AITI Foundation for Animal Protection in Beijing. But, he contends, the decision to ban the domestic ivory trade was a special case, more of a political move than to help stop elephant poaching.

    Both Li and Peng emphasize that it’s the younger generation who will change how animals are treated and protected. Take the issue of traditional medicine: Many older Chinese turn to treatments using wildlife parts to cure ailments from arthritis to fevers to ulcers. Peng recalled how when she moved to China, her father asked her to bring back tiger bone wine, an elixir believed to impart strength.

    “Now we’re starting to realize with evidence-based medicine that these products-bear bile, tiger bone, ivory shavings, pangolin scales-have no true medicinal value. There are already other products that can provide the same benefits,” Peng says. “A lot of these myths are rooted in deep traditional cultures, and it’s going to take generational change for these beliefs to be overcome.”


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