Even in view of the various uses of the donkey in Nigeria, it was intriguing to discover that Chinese merchants have a lot of interest in it, which is tied directly to the movement en masse of the animal from the Northern part of Nigeria, to others. Donkeys are not bred in large number by any major farm or organization anywhere in Nigeria, so their population are dwindling, and fast.
Some declared them “endangered”. One of them, Dr. Vincent Isegbe, Coordinating Director of the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) said a group of foreigners approached him for a quarantine certificate, to export donkey skin from Nigeria to China, but he declined because, according to him, the animal is on the list of endangered species and not allowed for export.
Dr. Isegbe expressed concern that a lot of illegal trade is said to be going on, which is responsible for the declining population of the animal, as it is also not being bred to check the trend. Mr. Ling Xao, a Chinese national working in the construction sector, told Daily Trust in Lafia that donkey by-products, particularly the skin, are hot cake in China, commanding sizeable price tags.
He added that it is because it is a staple in Chinese traditional medicine, particularly in anti-ageing solutions popular with women. While Xao says he has never taken the skin out of Nigeria, he confirmed that he would if given the opportunity, as it would fetch him a lot of money. Emeka Emmanuel is a well-known buyer of donkeys at Maigatari International Cattle Market in Jigawa State and has been into the business for over 20 years now.
He told Daily Trust that sometimes he buys over a million naira’s worth of donkeys from the market for onward transport to the South. “I’m into the business not only for meeting demand for the meat in the South-East where it is a delicacy for some, but for transporting the skin abroad, too. It is in high demand in China, and I’m making a killing,” he said, adding that after the meat is removed, the skin is processed and readied for export.
Saminu Haladu is a middle-man in the donkey section of the Maigatari International Cattle Market and revealed that over 5,000 donkeys are transported to South-Eastern states from the market every week. He said about 20 trailers loaded with donkeys are leaving the market to the South weekly, largely to Anambra, Enugu and Bayelsa states. He said: “We’ve heard that the skin is taken to China because of the high demand over there. But here, they highest they can buy a donkey is N35,000 or N40,000. If it is sick, then about N10,000 to N15,000.” Haladu also said the demand for donkey’s hides in China was very high in 2015, particularly.
“We learnt that the Chinese people buy the hide at the equivalent of N12,000 apiece, which has made the price of the animal rise. According to him, insurgency and exchange rate are grossly affecting the supply of donkeys to the market from neighbouring Niger Republic, which is the merchants’ major source of donkeys. In Kano State, at Larabar Abasawa Market in Gezawa local government area, another middle-man in the donkey section, Mai-Unguwa Musa Minjibir, said clients from the South have stopped coming to buy donkeys, because they are not getting the quantity they want. He added that in the South, the skin is treated irrespective of the size, age or health of the animal, and taken to China, where “they are crazy for it”.
A Chinese diplomatic official confirmed that donkey skin is used for medicine in China, but the embassy seems unaware of how far their nationals have penetrated trade on the commodity in Nigeria. An embassy official who asked not to be named told Daily Trust: “Donkey skin is a material for a type of Chinese medicine.” The official declined further comment when questioned on the impact of its patronage on trade between the two countries, or if bilateral efforts are on to facilitate easy access in view of the growing demand. Apart from the skin, donkey milk was used up to the early 20th century as substitute for cow milk in some cultures around the world. According to Viva Woman, a Singapore-based beauty blog with focus on natural skincare, donkey milk “can promote blood circulation and increase the reproduction of cells; its beautifying effect is also much sought after by women. It is reported to have great anti-aging effects, including increasing elasticity of the skin, improving skin tone, preventing wrinkles and even eradicating pigmented spots.” Clinical studies reported by Nova Science Publishers, New York, also demonstrated that donkey milk could substitute breast feeding in infants because it is the closest milk to human milk in biochemical composition. China Daily website reports that donkey skin is made into a cold appetizer and gelatin in China. The site says donkey meat is consumed widely in China’s northern provinces of Shandong, Anhui, Hebei, Shanxi and Shaanxi, and especially in Hebei.
Beijing is greatly influenced by this donkey-eating culture, it adds. Checks showed that the Chinese merchants use the skin mainly to meet a growing demand in cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies producing Gelatin. Their researchers say the quality of gelatin extracted from donkey skin is particularly high, and has properties unavailable in skins of other animals. Gelatin is a mixture of peptides and proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals, mostly domesticated ones. In the markets in the South-East, donkey meat is called ‘Jaki’ (‘donkey’ in Hausa) and it serves to some as an alternative to beef, considered costly.
Since donkey meat consumption became the vogue in Ezzamgbo in Ebonyi State, Maigatari Border Market at Agbor in Delta State and Obollo-Afo and Eha-Amufu, both in Enugu State where donkeys are given as special gifts during funeral ceremonies of affluent persons. Dr. Mahmud Abdullahi, a Veterinary Officer in Kaduna, says though the meat has nutritional value, he is not aware of any area in Nigeria where people drink donkey milk. According to him, a 1996 census of the animal in Nigeria put their population at about 3.6 million and they are only found within the Northern states. Back in Jigawa, at the Maigatari International Cattle Market, another dealer, Kenneth Samuel, described the business as profitable. He told Daily Trust that he transports the donkeys to the South-East, but China is the final destination where they sell the skin at “very good prices”. He added that buyers don’t mind any type of donkey because the main concern is the skin, not the meat. Therefore, he says, “We make more gain from sick donkeys, as they cost less.” While the Chinese go gaga over Nigerian donkeys, the awareness of the demand is creating a large market, inevitably paving way for smuggling of the animal’s in-demand skin. How long this boom of sorts continues unregulated, remains to be seen.