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Donkey numbers shrink over high China demand

By Kamundia Muriithi
Hundreds of donkey owners and riders in Kirinyaga County decorated their animals with beautiful ribbons during a procession held in Mwea town to commemorate the National Donkey Day

In di­fferent parts of Kenya, donkeys play a crucial role hauling heavy loads especially water from sources such as rivers and boreholes to homesteads.

 In Mt Kenya region, animal welfare groups estimate that donkey transportation business supports over 100,000 households. Based on their import, stakeholders aver that donkeys should be treated as valued animals complete with breeding centres and artificial insemination services.

Worryingly, Kenya has neither of the two services, while the number of donkeys is on a steady decline and is blamed on donkey slaughter; both legal and illegal.

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) warns Kenya’s donkeys could be decimated in the next four years. In its report titled Status of Donkey Slaughter in Kenya and its implications on Community Livelihoods released on June 5, Kalro notes that whereas donkey’s national growth rate is 1.4 percent, the animals are being slaughtered at a higher rate.

The report puts the number of donkeys slaughtered in the last three years at 15 percent of their current population.

 The report that also brought on board Brooke East Africa, Kenya Bureau of Standards and Kenya Network for the Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies, which runs the popular Heshimu Punda Program further revealed that the mean number of donkeys slaughtered was 5.1 percent, which is fi ve times which surpasses the animal’s annual population growth.

The population of donkeys in the year 2016 was 1.9 million, with the report indicating that if slaughter had been stopped, the numbers might have risen to slightly over 2 million by 2022.

The high demand donkey hides that are used in the manufacture of traditional Chinese medicine led to unregulated slaughter in four licensed slaughterhouses in the country. In some parts of the country such as Mwea, theft of donkeys which are slaughtered and then sold passed o­ as beef is also contributing to decline of donkeys population according to Brooke East Africa and Kendat.

Kirinyaga County Director of Livestock, Veterinary Services and Fisheries Dr Richard Gichangi concedes that the population of donkeys in the county, which is currently 3000, is on the decline due to their illegal slaughter and purchase by licensed abattoirs.

 He says the problem is compounded by the fact that donkeys take long to give birth and there is no artificial insemination in the country.

“We don’t encourage eating of donkeys here as they are meant to provide labour. They are of more economic importance to a farmer when working than when slaughtered. They do most of the work of transporting rice from the fields to the mills and market,” he says.

He calls for the setting up of a donkey breeding centres to help increase their numbers. Dr. Gichangi advises farmers to construct secure enclosures for their animals the way they do for their dairy cows as a first to keeping o­ thieves. He says the county has passed an animal welfare bill that requires all livestock to be treated well and has penalties for mistreating animals.

 Kendat Heshimu Punda Program director Eston Muriithi urges the government to consider closing down the licensed donkey abattoirs in a bid to increase the number of donkeys in the country.

 “In Mt Kenya region we have 68,000 donkeys that supports the livelihood of over 100,000 people. They population is decreasing at an alarming rate. All e­fforts should be taken to halt that,” says Muriithi.

Brooke East Africa offcial Laura Kabata urges government to crackdown on cross border smuggling of donkey and to also ban their slaughter to save the animal.

The gravity of donkey theft is underscored by the fate of scores of Mwea residents whose donkey were stolen at night predisposing them to a life of misery. Benard Mwangi used to own two donkeys but they were stolen last year in June from his home compound.

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