Donkey theft in Tanzania
Killed, skinned, and thrown away
In the middle of the night, criminal gangs sneak into villages to either steal donkeys or to simply kill and skin them right there and then. The cause of this is “e jiao” - a product that is derived from the skin of donkeys. In recent years, the demand for this supposedly miracle-cure has constantly increased in China. As a result, it has become nearly impossible to legally obtain the necessary number of animals needed to produce the required quantity of this sought-after product. Now around 500.000 donkeys being kept in Tanzania have become the target of brutal thefts. Since 2017 we have provided emergency aid several times in cooperation with two partner NGOs, with our last involvement in April and May 2019, to help protect the donkeys in Tanzania.
Due to the close proximity to Kenya with its four donkey slaughterhouses, the animals living in the districts of Simanjiro and Kahama have become especially vulnerable. To ensure their survival, we are working on building enclosures for the donkeys. These enclosures are located in the heart of each village, right next to the peoples’ homes. As another safety feature, bells have been added to the gates of the enclosures and to some of the animals. This allows the animal owners to hear if someone is scaring the animals by trying to break in, and thus enables them to get to the donkeys faster.
During 2017 in cooperation with our partner Meru Animal Welfare Organization (MAWO), we focused our emergency aid for the donkeys’ protection against theft on the district of Simanjiro. The community then decided, on their own initiative, to build another nine enclosures in the area. By doing this, we managed to save approximately 3000 donkeys from potential thefts and thus, their certain death. To additionally protect the neighboring districts, ten community members were trained on how to build an enclosure so that they can pass on their knowledge to others.
In 2018, in the district of Kahama over 100 donkeys were stolen within a short period of time and left skinned right on the spot. Therefore, we also provided emergency aid to our partner organization Tanzania Animals Protection Organization (TAPO) which is based in this area. Thanks to the massive support by the villagers, 50 enclosures following the same principle as before were built in 10 villages and more than 1000 donkeys saved. Donkey owners from surrounding communities in response also ended up building another 43 enclosures following our model.
While the enclosure were being built, several meetings with local politicians, community leaders, vets and paravets, police as well as donkey owners took place, as it is essential to try to find a solution long-term. These problems need to be included in any official plans and every donkey owner needs to be able to provide safe shelter to their animals.
Ever since enclosures were built in these communities, no donkeys have been stolen.
Instead, the donkey smugglers approach the owners directly and try to convince them to sell their animals. Our previous training sessions however, has educated the people on what will happen to their animals if they sell them and on what effects the current market values’ of donkeys. At the end of the day, the sale of the donkey only results in short-lived financial relief. If they need the support of having a donkey long-term will have a negative impact on their life as the market price for donkeys is at an all-time high thanks to the short supply of these animals. As this knowledge is constantly being spread among people, more and more donkey owners refuse the sale offers.
At the beginning of 2019, our project partner TAPO informed us about again increasing donkey thefts in the region Kahama – this being a result of people increasingly deciding not to sell their donkeys. So we set out to nine new villages to help. With our previously proven to work methods, within two months we ensured the protection of more than 1000 donkeys. Our emergency aid also inspired the local council in Kahama. Two police officers have created a task force, which only focuses on the donkey thefts. Additionally, a shelter was built to house donkeys stolen or confiscated by the police short-term until homes could be found.
Over the period of enclosure constructions and training sessions, we also used the opportunity to provide veterinary care for the donkeys.
Altogether we have managed to build secure enclosures for approximately 5.000 donkeys to protect them from the thieves and the subsequent death in the slaughter houses. Our work has correspondingly encouraged other local neighboring communities to build enclosures for their animals following on from our example.