Africa’s Donkeys Are Being Stolen and Slaughtered for Chinese Medicine

JOHANNESBURG — How did a popular period drama on Chinese TV help lead to the theft and brutal slaughter of millions of donkeys in Africa?

It all started when fans of the show “Empresses in the Palace” saw the aristocratic characters using a traditional Chinese medicine called ejiao, which is made from donkey skin, Simon Pope, who works for U.K.-based charity the Donkey Sanctuary, told VOA.

“It was all set in the (Chinese) imperial court and at a certain time of the day the ladies of the court would all say, ‘Let’s have some ejiao,’” said Pope. Ejiao, also called donkey glue, is used as medicine or as a tonic for health and beauty in China.

“As a result of this program the demand for ejiao just literally went through the roof,” he said of the show first broadcast in 2011. “The problem was China simply does not have enough donkeys to be able to meet demand.”

The Chinese started looking for donkeys abroad, particularly in Africa where they’re used as a beast of burden by rural communities from Mali to Zimbabwe to Tanzania. When locals didn’t want to sell, thefts started, with distressed farmers finding their precious donkeys skinned and left to rot on the veld.

China needs about 5 million donkeys a year to produce and meet the demand for ejiao, and about 2 million of these come from China’s own population of the animals. Of the remaining 3 million or more sourced abroad, the Donkey Sanctuary estimates that between 25% and 35% are stolen.

Now, years into the trade, populations are down, and some African countries are fighting back. Tanzania last month banned donkey slaughter for the skin trade, saying the country’s donkey population was at risk of becoming extinct. Other African countries including Nigeria have also introduced bans on donkey slaughter or exports of the animal.

“I think the message that’s going to China, from Africa in particular, is that our donkeys are too valuable an asset to have them skinned and shipped off to China to have them made into medicine. Our donkeys are not for sale,” said Pope. However, he noted that because of China’s economic clout on the continent and massive investment in infrastructure, other nations are loath to push back against the trade.

South Africa allows the butchering of donkeys but only at two licensed slaughterhouses and with a quota of 12,000 a year. Authorities here have been cracking down on the illegal trade in recent years, so criminal syndicates have gone underground, especially since COVID, said Grace de Lange, an inspector with the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) in South Africa.

Now South African donkeys are being smuggled into Lesotho, a tiny mountainous kingdom surrounded by South Africa.

“We are not sure exactly what the link is and how they’re getting it out – maybe easier from Lesotho,” she told VOA.

“We’ve had meetings with (the) government in Lesotho and they’re also investigating. … It’s going to the Chinese market,” she said, adding that authorities have also intercepted skins in warehouses and at the airport.

While small-time local criminals have been prosecuted after being arrested transporting the animals, the Chinese running the large syndicates are usually harder to get to, de Lange says.

Marosi Molomo, director of livestock services at Lesotho’s Ministry of Agriculture, responded to VOA’s questions about the donkey trade moving to Lesotho via text message saying: “It’s not possible to give an answer without evidence.”

Requests for comment from the Chinese embassies and consulates in both Lesotho and South Africa went unanswered.

De Lange said the animals are often slaughtered in a particularly cruel way. They are stunned with hammers or have their throats slit but are sometimes still alive when skinned.

“They’d actually been slaughtered in the most horrific manner,” she said.

Francis Nkosi, who works on a farm outside Johannesburg caring for some of the donkeys rescued from the skin trade, explained why the animal is so vital in Africa’s rural areas.

“Donkeys in our culture, they’re like transport. They help us,” he said as he fed fresh hay to Oscar and Presley, two of his charges who were rescued – in terrible condition – by the NSPCA last year on their way to slaughter across the border in Lesotho.

“If people get sick sometimes, we don’t have a car. We don’t have a transport. You can use the donkeys to transport some people to the hospital,” he added.

De Lange said she’s seen that donkey “numbers are dwindling” in the rural communities where she works and, for Pope, one major concern is how losing their donkeys has socioeconomic effects for many.

In some countries, “children had been pulled out of school and they were having to do the work previously the donkey was having to do,” Pope said.

While some argue Africa should set up donkey farms and benefit financially that way, Pope points out that China has tried mass farming the animals and been largely unsuccessful. Unlike other farm animals, donkeys can only produce one foal a year.

Ejiao has been used as medicine for the last two millennia, and in modern-day China it is available in various edible forms intended to aid circulation and help with aches and pains.

“Demand for donkey glue in China has affected communities halfway across the globe,” according to an article about the product in China’s state publication China Daily.

“The issue is sensitive, simply because some of these countries depend on the donkey as a working beast in both agriculture and transportation,” it said. “But this is also the reality of a tightening global network of supply and demand, and the fearsome power of being one of the largest consumer markets on Earth.”

The donkey skin trade has also become a conduit for other criminal activity, according to an investigation by the Donkey Sanctuary and researchers at the University of Oxford published in May. The report found donkey skins easily available for purchase online and that websites selling the product were also often offering endangered wildlife for sale and even illicit drugs.

There is a “vast online network of organized criminals offering donkey skins for sale, often alongside other illegal wildlife products including rhino horns, pangolin scales, elephant ivory and tiger hides,” the Donkey Sanctuary said.

Source: Voice of America

Infants, Patients Among 13 Killed in Congo Hospital Attack

KINSHASA, CONGO — Rebels attacked a hospital in Congo and killed at least 13 people, including infants and patients, according to hospital and military officials. The Congolese army said three attackers were killed when the military intervened.

Some hospital staff are missing, and several houses were burned in the attack Thursday night on the medical center in Lume, North Kivu province. It’s the largest health facility in the region.

Islamic State claimed responsibility, the group’s news agency said in a statement on its Telegram channel on Saturday.

Among those killed in the attack were three infants and four patients, hospital chief Kule Bwenge told reporters.

“Four blocks of the medical center were set on fire. Several sick guards, as well as a nurse, are missing,” he said.

The reason for targeting the hospital was unclear.

In the nearby village of Kidolo, four other people were killed with machetes and shot, apparently as part of the same attack.

North Kivu military spokesman Anthony Mualushayi said the attackers were Mai-Mai militia members from the Dido group. In addition to the attackers who were killed, one was captured in the ensuing clashes, he said.

But local civic groups accused rebels of the Uganda-based Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, of carrying out the attack. ADF rebels have been active in eastern Congo for decades and have killed thousands in the region since they resurfaced in 2013.

Other attacks were reported last week in the nearby towns of Bulongo and Kilya, also in North Kivu.

North Kivu is in eastern Congo and borders Uganda and Rwanda. Eastern Congo sees daily threats from armed groups battling for the region’s rich mineral wealth, which the world mines for electric cars, laptops and mobile phones. Infants, Patients Among 13 Killed in Congo Hospital Attack

Source: Voice of America

Blinken Raises Concerns about Ukraine with Chinese Counterpart

BALI, INDONESIA — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterpart Saturday that China’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine is complicating U.S.-Chinese relations at a time when they are already beset by rifts and enmity over numerous other issues. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed the U.S. for the downturn in relations and said American policy has been derailed by what he called a misperception of China as a threat.

“Many people believe that the United States is suffering from a China-phobia,” the Chinese foreign minister said, according to a Chinese statement. “If such threat-expansion is allowed to grow, U.S. policy toward China will be a dead end with no way out.”

The top U.S. diplomat—now in Bangkok where he is expected to talk about the situation in Myanmar—said he conveyed “the deep concerns of the United States regarding Beijing’s increasingly provocative rhetoric and activity toward Taiwan.”

Blinken also noted he addressed U.S. concerns over Beijing’s use of the strategic South China Sea, the repression of freedom in Hong Kong, forced labor, the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Tibet, and the genocide in Xinjiang.

Additionally, the U.S. secretary of state said that he and Wang discussed ways in which there could be more cooperation between the two countries in areas such as climate crisis, food security, global health and counternarcotics.

For his part, Wang said China and the United States need to work together to ensure that their relationship will continue to move forward along the right track.

“This is part of an ongoing, and I think important, series of conversations with our Chinese counterparts across the government to make sure that we are responsibly managing the relationship,” a senior State Department official said Thursday, adding that the relationship has “different aspects to it, from profound competition being at the heart [but also] elements of cooperation, and there are elements of contestation.”

Blinken’s meeting with the Chinese foreign minister is their first in-person since the chief U.S. diplomat unveiled the Biden administration’s strategy to outcompete the rival superpower. In his remarks at the time, Blinken said the U.S. was not seeking to decouple from China and the relationship between the world’s two largest economies was not a zero-sum game.

On Friday, the G-20 talks were dominated by discussion of the war in Ukraine and its impact on energy and food supplies.

Indonesia, as the meeting’s host country, called on ministers to “find a way forward” in discussing the war and its impact on rising food and energy prices.

“It is our responsibility to end the war sooner rather than later and settle our differences at the negotiating table, not at the battlefield,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said at the opening of the meeting, invoking the U.N. charter to urge multilateralism and trust.

Foreign ministers shared concerns about getting grain shipments out of Ukraine and avoiding devastating food shortages in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. But talks were marked by sharp tension: Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sat at the same table but did not speak directly.

Source: Voice of America

Italy Relocates Migrants After Lampedusa Center Overwhelmed

ROME — The Italian navy Saturday began relocating the first 600 migrants from the Sicilian island of Lampedusa after its refugee identification center became overwhelmed with new arrivals and photos circulated of filthy conditions.

July has seen a sustained uptick in daily migrant arrivals in Italy compared to recent years, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Overall, migrant arrivals are up sharply this year, with 30,000 would-be refugees making landfall so far compared to 22,700 in the same period in 2021 and 7,500 in 2020.

Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than mainland Italy, is often the destination of choice for Libyan-based migrant smugglers, who charge desperate people hundreds of dollars apiece to cross the Mediterranean Sea on packed, dangerous dinghies and boats.

The Italian navy’s San Marco ship was taking an initial 600 migrants from Lampedusa to another center in Sicily and from there they were be distributed elsewhere in Italy. The ministry said the transfers would continue Sunday.

Lampedusa’s former mayor, Giusi Nicolini, posted what she said were photos and videos taken in the center in recent days, showing new arrivals sleeping on the floor on pieces of foam and bathrooms piled high with plastic bottles and garbage.

“There are 2,100 people packed in the Lampedusa welcome center,” which has beds for 200, she wrote on Facebook. “These could be photos from Libya, but no, it’s Italy. And these are the ones who survived.”

Right-wing lawmakers were quick to seize on the overcrowding, blaming the left-wing parties in Italy’s government for being too soft on migration.

“And this would be the left’s famous humanitarian model?” Georgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy party tweeted along with the images. “Saying no to mass illegal immigration also means saying no to this.”

Source: Voice of America

Elena Rybakina Stuns Herself, Ons Jabeur to Win Wimbledon

Elena Rybakina dropped the first set but roared back to defeat No. 3 seed Ons Jabeur and win the women’s singles title at Wimbledon on Saturday.

Rybakina, the No. 17 seed who was born in Moscow but has represented Kazakhstan since 2018, triumphed 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 over the Tunisian at the All England Club in London.

Saturday’s clash marked the first Wimbledon title match between two first-time Grand Slam finalists in the Open Era.

Jabeur, who entered as the heavy favorite, jumped out to a 2-1 lead when she broke Rybakina’s serve early in the first set. With Rybakina serving to stay in the set at 3-5, Jabeur broke once again.

But the second set was a different story.

After winning points on just 53 percent of her first serves in the first set, Rybakina changed her strategy, serving primarily to Jabeur’s backhand. It paid off as she won 73 percent of the first points on her serve and hit 13 winners to seven unforced errors.

And as frustration set in for Jabeur in the second set, so did the miscues. Her percentage of points won on first serve dropped from 80 percent in the first set to 59 percent, and her serve was broken twice by Rybakina, who saved all four of her break points. Jabeur had seven winners against nine unforced errors.

Jabeur dropped serve in the first game of the third set but had a chance to turn the momentum. With the 23-year-old Rybakina serving up 3-2, Jabeur quickly put her down 0-40 and had a triple break point to tie the match.

But Rybakina fought back, winning five straight points to take a commanding 4-2 lead and then the title.

In her on-court interview, Rybakina said her goal was just to last until the second week of Wimbledon. Her win shocked even her.

“I’m gonna be honest. In [the] second week of Grand Slam at Wimbledon to be a winner, I mean it’s just amazing,” she said.

Asked later about her low-key reaction to the victory, Rybakina said that’s just her personality.

“I’m always very calm. I don’t know what should happen,” she said. “When I was giving [my] speech in the end I was thinking, ‘I’m going to cry right now,’ but somehow, I hold it. Maybe later when I’m going to be alone in the room, I’m going to cry nonstop. I don’t know.

“Maybe because I believe that I can do it deep inside. But [the] same time it’s, like, too many emotions. I was just trying to keep myself calm. Maybe one day you will see [a] huge reaction from me, but unfortunately not today.” Jabeur, 27, was the first Arab woman and the first woman from Africa to play for a Grand Slam title.

“I love this tournament so much and I feel really sad, but I mean it’s tennis,” she said after receiving her runner-up trophy from Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. “There is only one winner. … I’m trying to inspire, you know, many generations from my country. I hope they’re listening.”

Source: Voice of America