How SA donkey skins make it into Chinese menopause products

24 January 2017 - 16:50 By Jan Bornman
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Forget rhino horns‚ elephant tusks and pangolin scales - experts are now warning rural donkey owners to keep a watchful eye over their animals as the demand for donkey skins is feeding an overseas market.

Two big busts this month alone‚ in the Northern Cape and Gauteng‚ has cast a spotlight on a potential syndicate operating in the country‚ exporting donkey skins to the Chinese market where the gelatin in the pelts is converted into a product called ejiao‚ which is used in the East for medicinal purposes.

  • Horses and donkeys allegedly bludgeoned with hammers‚ skinned aliveThe NSPCA’s Farm Animal Protection Unit has uncovered what it calls another horror donkey killing site in the Northern Cape‚ where hundreds of donkeys were allegedly illegally and brutally slaughtered on a farm in Olifantshoek. 

According to online herbal remedy site‚ the donkey-gelatin product is used "for menopause with irregular menstruation‚ hot flush‚ mood swing‚ insomnia‚ memory loss‚ dry mouth‚ tinnitus‚ muscle and joint pains symptoms."

"They butcher a lot of donkeys very cruelly and inhumanely. What's happening to the meat is a very good question. All they want is the skin‚" said Ashley Ness‚ an inspector at the Highveld Horse Care Unit.

Ness's team was instrumental in a bust on January 16 where they recovered between 3000 and 3500 donkey pelts in Benoni on Johannesburg's East Rand.

It’s believed that the skins would have been sent to China.

She said it appears there's one major syndicate operating in the country‚ with links to the slaughtering of donkeys for the skins in Limpopo‚ Mpumalanga‚ North West and the Northern Cape‚ where the NSPCA recently uncovered a farm with roughly 500 donkey carcasses.

NSPCA inspector Mpho Mokoena said on Tuesday that the animal welfare group had arrested two people in Olifantshoek in the Northern Cape where they were slaughtering donkeys on a rented farm.

"When we got there‚ there were about 500 carcasses lying around in the field. You can see they tried to bury some of them‚" she said.

Mokoena said the two people who were arrested‚ Heinrich Smit and Dawid Pappie‚ had already appeared in the Khatu Magistrate's Court and were charged in terms of the Animals Protection Act and the Meat Safety Act.

Northern Cape police spokesperson Captain Olebogeng Tawana confirmed the arrests‚ saying both men were released on R1000 bail last week.

Police are still investigating the motive for the doctor killings‚ he said.

Mokoena said it seemed that the two were bludgeoning the donkeys with hammers‚ and then skinned them without making sure the animals were dead.

She said the police and the NSPCA were looking at other suspects as well‚ including the owners of the farm.

"They were aware of it. The father and son will also be arrested. They are basically promoting it as it is happening on their property and they know about it‚" she said.

Mokoena said the pair transported the donkey skins from the farm outside Olifantshoek to a house in Olifantshoek where there was a cooled storage facility.