Botswana’s government has moved to crack down on the multi-billion dollar trade in donkey skins following a spate of killings of the animals across the country fuelled by soaring demand from China.
Export licences for donkeys and their products have been suspended indefinitely, the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Many thousands of donkeys have been slaughtered in Botswana and in other developing countries in recent years and their skins sold to China for use in traditional medicine.
Donkeys are being killed in growing numbers to feed demand from China where the skins are used to make a natural medicine believed to be a sexual stimulant with anti-ageing properties.
Hooves also contain the supposedly medicinal gelatin, while the meat, consumed in parts of China, is believed to be more nutritious than beef and is enjoyed in burgers and stews.
Botswana is the sixth African country to impose restrictions on donkey exports, following Niger, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Gambia.
Zimbabwe turned down an application to build a donkey slaughterhouse, while Ethiopia closed its only functioning donkey abattoir after residents complained about the smell. But the bans have led to a flourishing illegal trade in donkey skins and caused prices to soar.
Farmers in Botswana have been urged to closely monitor their donkeys to prevent thefts as well as to report suspicious exchanges of live animals.
Animal rights groups say the docile beasts of burden are often cruelly bludgeoned to death before being skinned in backyards and clandestine slaughterhouses.
The industry is said to be worth billions of dollars and China is increasingly looking to Africa to satisfy demand after its own donkey population dropped sharply.
Donkey numbers in China have nearly halved from 11 million in the 1990s to six million in 2013, according to official statistics.