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Why is the population of donkeys decreasing in India?

Donkey population India; Half of the world's donkey population could disappear in the next five years, as millions are killed

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Why population of donkeys decreased in India?

Half of the world's donkey population could disappear in the next five years, as millions are killed for their skins to meet the growing demand for traditional Chinese medicine.

A recent study showed that the number of donkeys decreased by 61.2% between 2012 and 2019. Where their total number was 3.2 lakh in the 2012 livestock census, it dropped to 1.2 lakh in 2019. That is, their number has been reduced by 2 lakh in the last eight years.

Donkey population decreased

A study commissioned by Brooke India (BI)  'The Hidden Hide', aimed to uncover the donkey hide trade in the country. It is worth noting that Brooke India is the Indian unit of the organization working for the welfare of donkeys, horses and mules internationally.

Donkey population in India. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The strategy adopted for this study visited the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, which recorded an alarming decrease in the donkey population between the two livestock censuses (2012 to 2019, respectively).

According to the report, in these eight years, where Maharashtra saw a decline of 39.7 per cent, Uttar Pradesh saw a decline of 71.7 per cent. Similarly, a 71 per cent decline was also recorded in Rajasthan. It is worth noting that in the 2012 census, the number of donkeys present in Rajasthan was recorded at around 81,000 in the country, it dropped to just 23,000 in 2019.

During this period, the population of donkeys in Gujarat has declined by more than 70.9%. At the same time, a decline of 53.2 per cent has been registered in Andhra Pradesh and 47.3 per cent in Bihar.

However, it is not that the population of donkeys has decreased only in the country. The population of horses, ponies and mules also declined during this period. According to the report, the total number of horses and ponies declined by 45.6% in the 2019 census.

Similarly, the number of mules has decreased by more than 57 per cent. If seen, in 2012, when the total population of horses and ponies was 6.2 lakh, in the 2019 census it had come down to 3.4 lakh.

Illegal export of donkey skin

Donkey population in India. Source: Pexels

Donkey owners and traders were generally reluctant to talk about the Chinese connection. But some chose to speak up. At a donkey fair in Jejuri, Maharashtra, trader Ram Babu Jadhav said that a Chinese man had approached him through a local Maharashtrian to buy at least 200 donkeys every month.

According to the study, rapid mechanization is responsible for the declining number of donkeys in the country. Donkeys are generally bred in countries to carry goods to brick kilns and other works. But as machines are coming in, their need is decreasing. Not only this, the way mules are being used instead of donkeys in the country.

Similarly, the policies of the government regarding their breeding are also responsible for their declining population to some extent. Similarly, the new generations of the community who used to raise these donkeys for their work, no longer want to do this work. That too is one of the reasons for their declining population.

One thing that is most surprising is the hunting of these creatures for their skin. Which is somehow responsible for their declining population. The demand for donkeys in China has increased significantly in the last few years. Where they are being killed for the gelatin found from their skins. This gelatin is called 'Ejiao'. In China, it is used for everything from traditional medicines to cosmetics.

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