It was World Donkey Day on Wednesday and the nation’s leading wild horse and burro protection organization, American Wild Horse Conservation, or AWHC, is leading a call to action to support both wild burro and global domestic donkey populations.

The push comes as the Bureau of Land Management plans to round up over 1,600 wild burros from their natural habitats this summer. The captured animals will be funneled into an overburdened holding system, where 64,000 wild horses and burros already are held.

Wild donkeys, or burros, are at risk of entering the slaughter pipeline.

Additionally, donkeys or burros are especially at risk of being slaughtered in foreign slaughter plants for the production of ejiao — gelatin made from boiling donkey skins.

Research by the National Institutes of Health and available through its Library of Medicine said it is in high demand.

“Ejiao market sales reached more than $6 billion in 2020. However, because the demand is increasing much faster than the supply, various adulterants, particularly gelatins made from cattle, pig, and horse hides, are frequently found in the market The demand stems from it’s popular use as a food health supplement and valuable Chinese medicine. Ejiao exerts diverse beneficial effects, such as optimizing the immune response, nourishing the blood, and delaying the biological effects of aging. Some critics say the health impacts are unproven.”

Donkey hides are in high demand in the United States

The wild horse campaign said that globally, 4.8 million donkey hides are consumed yearly for the ejiao trade. At this rate, half of the world’s donkeys could be decimated in a few years, it asserts. Further, the United States is the third largest importer of products made with ejiao, with $12 million in imports.

To combat this, Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., introduced H.R. 6021, which would prohibit the transportation, sale and purchase of donkeys or donkey hides for the purpose of producing ejiao and for other purposes, and prohibit the transportation, sale and purchase of products containing ejiao.

Wild burros from the Canyon Land HMA in Utah are pictured in this undated photo. | Tandin Chapman

“The international trade in ejiao, a gelatin derived from donkey hide, devastates global donkey populations. As the third largest importer of ejiao products, the United States significantly fuels this demand for donkey skins. Congress should take action to halt all importation of those products into this country,” said Rep. Beyer. “The effects of the ejiao trade reverberate throughout global communities, impacting those who depend on donkeys for their livelihood. It’s time to help shut down this inhumane trade, which leads to substantial harm to humans and animals worldwide.”

“We are witnessing an increase in the number of wild burros entering the slaughter pipeline due to the federal government’s extensive roundup and removal policy and its incentivized adoption program,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of American Wild Horse Conservation. “Instead of putting federally protected wild burros at risk of entering trades like the ejiao, the federal government must invest in scientifically proven, humane methods of in-the-wild conservation for our beloved burro populations.”

What is a donkey or a burro?

Amelia Perrin, a spokesperson for the American Wild Horse Conservation, said a burro is basically a wild donkey. There are about 14,000 wild donkeys — or burros — left in the United States and the Bureau of Land Management is planning a roundup this summer of 1,600 of the animals. Some of those burros’ populations are in Utah.

Ejiao, the gelatin extracted from boiling their hides, is commonly found in the United States and is used in traditional medicine, as well as cosmetics.

One only needs to go to popular online shopping sites to shop for “ass hide” gelatin to improve one’s health. It also comes in powder as a healthy meal replacement.

In February, Africa nations banned the use of donkey hides for the ejiao trade.

The BBC reported that about two-thirds of world’s estimated population of 53 million donkeys are in Africa. People in the poorest, rural communities use them for transportation and to carry water, food and other goods.

One recent study in Ethiopia — that set out to measure the economic value of donkeys — showed that owning one could mean the difference between destitution and a modest livelihood, according to the BBC’s reporting.

Yet in Kenya, it saw half the population decimated in three years, the media organization said.

According to one study, at current rates, half of the world’s population of donkeys would need to be slaughtered in the next five years to keep up with market demand. The information was posted on Beyer’s website when he introduced legislation in 2021.