Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Reporter
CONSERVATISTS say the non-existence of a law pertaining to the slaughtering of donkeys will lead to the extinction of the animal species in the country, once a donkey abattoir under construction in Bulawayo starts operating.
Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services Deputy Director for Health Dr Jairus Machakwa said there was no policy pertaining to the slaughtering of donkeys as it is not traditionally consumed in the country.
The revelation comes in the wake of the imminent opening of the country’s first donkey abattoir in Bulawayo by Battlefront Investments, a story which was broken by the Sunday News last week. Battlefront Investments owns Acacia Abattoir and operates four butcheries, three in Bulawayo and one in Victoria Falls.
“A regulation for the slaughtering of donkeys is not there because we don’t traditionally slaughter them but we have regulations for the slaughtering of any other animals we are accustomed to consuming. It’s, however, not a difficult process to amend a regulation given that we intend to consume the meat. So it’s up to the members of the public to raise their concern,” said Dr Machakwa.
He said the department has no authority to stop the construction of the abattoir since it was only to inspect the infrastructure and license it upon meeting the stipulated requirements.
“Anyone can build an abattoir on their farm or any piece of land after being granted authority by the relevant or responsible authorities. We only come to assess the infrastructure and see if it is fit for its purpose. So we cannot be held responsible for allowing someone to construct his abattoir,” said Dr Machakwa.
AWARE Trust-SPANA country director Dr Keith Dutlow said there was a need for the Government to enact a policy for slaughtering of donkeys before allowing the abattoir to operate.
“There is no legislation for slaughtering of donkeys. Before a donkey abattoir can be opened legally, pertinent legislation as there is for slaughter of cattle, pigs, chickens, among other stock would need to be put in place in order to protect the animal welfare of the donkeys and human public health through correct slaughter and meat inspection policies, but I hope that it will never come to this,” said Dr Dutlow.
He said licensing the abattoir would culminate in the indiscriminate slaughtering of the burden of beast and would impact negatively on the economic activities of people mostly those residing in rural areas while drastically reducing the animal’s population in the country.
“The proposed opening of a donkey abattoir in Bulawayo will lead to the extinction of donkeys in Zimbabwe, within five to 10 years. The impact of this will be that the lives of the poor, rural people who rely on these animals for carrying water, wood, food and for transport will become harder, while a few rich people become richer,” said Dr Dutlow.
Donkey skins are the basis of a Chinese traditional remedy called ejiao, which is used for treating a range of blood conditions and, increasingly, as a general wellness product. During the past decade skins have surged in value — fetching up to $400 each—as China’s donkey population has dwindled.
The result is an unprecedented global trade, much of it illicit.
“Whether, the reason is for their skins to make questionable medicinal products or for meat, the small population of donkeys that Zimbabwe has cannot sustain the removal of 2 000 donkeys a month from the national herd. In one year, that will eliminate 10 percent of our national herd. Donkeys breed very slowly, not like cattle. This practice is not part of the culture of Zimbabwe and we should not allow it,” said Dr Dutlow.
AWARE is the only veterinary conservation trust in Zimbabwe run by veterinarians, focusing on the welfare of wildlife and conservation of wildlife habitats. The Trust, funded by the UK-based organisation SPANA, runs ambulatory donkey clinics in rural Zimbabwe.
Lupane Youth for Development director Mr Alfred Sihwa said the country was not ready to have a donkey abattoir operational judging by the rate at which such facilities are being closed elsewhere in the continent.
The Botswana government suspended export licenses for donkeys and their products in July citing that rural communities were at risk of being impoverished by “relentless” Chinese demand for donkey products such as meat and hides, which are stewed to produce gelatin, a key ingredient in the making of a prized Chinese traditional medicine called ejiao. Battlefront Investments has already started buying donkeys around the country mostly in Matabeleland region and the Midlands Province.
Gwanda Rural District Council chief executive officer Mr Ronnie Sibanda confirmed being approached by some Chinese with the intent of buying donkeys at livestock auctions that would be conducted by the local authority.
“We were approached by some Chinese who expressed interests at buying donkeys at our auctions and mostly these will be stray donkeys. We were made to understand that the Government had given them authority to construct an abattoir in Bulawayo and we are in the process of conducting proper auction sales for donkeys,” said Mr Sibanda.
Last week, Battlefront Investments managing director Mr Gareth Lumsden said; “Our target market is the Asian market of which I have even employed some Asian people, Chinese people in particular. We have already procured the market for that product,” he was quoted as saying. -@DNsingo