For far too long now we’ve had to take care when it comes to our bush unicorns. Likely you know them better as rhinos, but I enjoy thinking of them as mythical beasts – the threat posed by uncontrolled poaching is bringing them to the edge of extinction.
The endangered species list really shouldn’t exist, but it does – and that list is full of creatures we seldom, if at all, get to see. I speak for the average person, not those who can and do access nature regularly – and can travel to do it.
There are various funds, projects and programmes set up to attempt to breed these populations back to health and guard what remains – with varying degrees of success.
Today I discovered there is another animal which is fast becoming far too popular and it is a continually growing problem. Ejiao is a traditional medicine employed in the treatment of miscarriage, circulatory issues, premature ageing and a bunch of others, including bleeding, dry cough, dizziness and insomnia.
Ejiao has been used in China for centuries and its great cost has seen it used only for the fortunate few who could afford it. This has changed and the emerging middle-class in that country are causing demand for the medication to spike.
This demand has had a tremendous impact on the international donkey population, since their hides are processed by soaking and stewing to create blocks of gelatine or mixed with powdered oyster shell or pollen, forming glue balls. This is ejiao and the result is increasingly disastrous for the donkeys.
Donkeys, unlike sheep and cattle are not popular breeding animals and they take about two years to mature into adults. The result means that demand for their hides outstrips their ability to reproduce effectively. It has become so bad that the countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal all have bans in place on the export of donkeys to China. Demand is estimated at around 4,800,000 hides annually.
Outside of harsh travel and transport conditions that sees many of the animals maimed or killed in the process, the lure of easy money is creating another problem. Employed mainly as a beast of burden, in countries where the poor are living on around US$1 every day, a donkey can fetch US$200 or more.
This lure of easy money in the short term sees donkeys sold and their labours being done instead by humans causing physical hardship, especially amongst rural women. Working the fields, carrying water and getting crops to market all fall to humans when the donkeys are sold.
There is appears to be no slowdown in the demand for this traditional Chinese medicine, but the question is whether the donkeys will be as attractive to potential protectors as our bush unicorns and their fellows creatures on the endangered lists.
On a final note, what do you think would happen if a busker played Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline in a subway station? You think that’s what you happen? Find out here, the result is entirely predictable and I hope it makes your Monday start with a smile.