BEIJING â Chinese farmer Ma Yufa grows vegetables on steep terraces in the mountains north of here â the type of terrain better suited for a donkey instead of a tractor.Â
But Ma, 80, who lives much the way his ancestors did, said his last donkey died in 2014, and he couldn’t replace her.Â âThere arenât any donkeys left,â Ma said sadly. âWeâve killed them all.â
China is in the grip of a massive donkey shortage caused by soaring demand for eâjiao âÂ a traditional medicine made by boiling donkey skin.Â Demand for eâjiao hasÂ doubled since 2010, hitting nearly 15 million pounds a year in 2015, according to the national eâjiao association.
The substance was once affordable only by royalty, because one donkey yields 2.2 pounds of e’jiao.Â
Only 30Â years ago, China had 11 million donkeys âÂ the largest herd in the world âÂ but the number has dwindled to between 3 million and 5 million, despite intensive breeding programs.
âThe eâjiao trade is unsustainable in its current form,â saidÂ Alex Mayers, with the British-based Donkey Sanctuary animal charity.
In late June, Botswana became the latest country to ban the export of donkey skins in response toÂ reports of hundreds of animals being killed every week.
EâjiaoÂ makers, mostly based in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, deny their product is causing the donkey shortage.Â They claim they areÂ creating a new role for the animal in the modern world. TheyÂ also say farmers in China and around the world can get rich by breeding donkeys for them.
âEâjiao is one of traditional…