In DepthAnimal Science

Donkeys face worldwide existential threat

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Science  13 Dec 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6471, pp. 1294-1295
DOI: 10.1126/science.366.6471.1294

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  • RE: Ejiao and donkey populations
    • Richard Mark Bennett, Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Reading
    • Other Contributors:
      • Simone Pfuderer, Researcher, University of Reading
      • Heather Maggs, Research student, University of Reading

    In her article ‘Donkeys face worldwide existential threat’ (13 December p1294), Christa Lesté-Lasserre states that the market for donkey hides to produce gelatin for ejiao has triggered steep donkey population declines. Certainly, the popularity (1) and rapidly rising prices for ejiao and donkey hides has caused Chinese ejiao producers to look globally for supplies of donkey hides due to an insufficient donkey population in China (largely due to increased mechanization) (2,3,4,5). Several countries have put in place restrictions or out-right bans on the export of donkeys and donkey hides to protect their populations (6). Chinese ejiao producers have taken initiatives to expand the domestic donkey population (7), including setting up new large-scale intensive donkey farming systems the like of which the world has not seen before. Donkeys have been little bred and selected for their breeding performance and breeding them is relatively slow and costly (8,9). Simulations from population modelling show that even assuming the highest levels of reproductive performance it would take 10-15 years or more for donkey populations in China to be built up to meet the demand for ejiao (10). The attitudes and beliefs of Chinese consumers towards ejiao are complex. Our survey of ejiao consumers in China showed that just under half state they would try a lab-grown alternative. Whether they would switch to consuming the lab-grown alternative remains a question.
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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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