Why Kenyans may have eaten donkey meat over Easter holiday


A donkey butcher under a tree. [File, Standard]

Kenyans have been repeatedly confronted with reports of suspects apprehended while transporting donkey meat to the market.

In December 2023, for instance, 10 individuals were arrested in Makueni for unlawfully slaughtering 15 donkeys and attempting to transport the meat to Nairobi.

A month earlier, authorities seized several kilos of donkey meat from a suspect in Nairobi's Burma market.

In January 2024, two suspects were detained with 12 slaughtered donkeys and handed over to authorities.

The proliferation of donkey meat in Kenya's meat market can be attributed in part to the high demand for delicacies.

Among the highly sought-after delicacies by Kenyans is beef, whether fried, roasted, or boiled, with the ultimate aim of savouring the meal.

However, this increased demand for beef poses a significant health risk, as Kenyans, may inadvertently consume donkey meat - or worse, may have already done so.

While the donkey was declared as a meat animal on 26th August 1999 by the then Minister of Agriculture Musalia Mudavadi vide Legal Notice number 146, mass donkey slaughter for their skins and meat was banned in Kenya due to declining donkey numbers.

Unscrupulous businessmen have resorted to illegally slaughtering donkeys in the wilderness for their skins and meat, posing a serious threat to public health.

The lack of sanitary conditions and inspection during slaughter allows the meat to enter Kenyan households, often misrepresented as beef.

The infiltration of uninspected donkey meat into Kenya poses a serious health risk to the public and further strains the country's healthcare infrastructure, already grappling with healthcare workers' strikes.

Experts caution that consuming uninspected donkey meat procured from bush slaughter could expose consumers to zoonotic diseases such as anthrax, rabies, brucellosis, and chemicals injected into the donkeys before slaughter, such as antibiotics.

Dr. Raphael Kinoti, the regional director of Brooke East Africa, an animal welfare organization focused on donkey welfare, warns, "Have you ever considered how the boneless meat you often buy was sourced? Donkeys are slaughtered in the bushes with no veterinarians to check if they are in good condition. The animal is subjected to very inhuman slaughter.  If you slaughter one donkey with anthrax or other zoonotic diseases, it can kill tens of people in the cities."

In light of these concerns, Kenyans are urged to exercise caution when seeking delicacies and other palatable edibles to avoid unknowingly consuming donkey meat.

"Kenyans should buy meat from reliable sources, places that they know and trust; so that they don't fall victim to uninspected donkey meat, which could be hazardous, as some of it might be from sick animals," Dr. Kinoti told The Standard.

The public is further advised to be vigilant for large-scale movements of donkeys, as it may indicate their targeting for slaughter, given the recent surge of hundreds of donkeys being transported around the country.

The country approved the opening of the first donkey slaughterhouse in 2016, which later increased to four - located in Nakuru, Baringo, Turkana, and Machakos counties.

In three years (2016–18), the four donkey abattoirs wiped out over 301,977 of Kenya’s donkey population, according to the 2019 Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) report, "The Status of Donkey Slaughter for Skin Trade and Its Implications on the Kenyan Economy."

According to KALRO’s projection, Kenya would have slaughtered the last of her donkey species last year, reducing them from Kenya’s donkey population, which was 1,965,632 as of 2016, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

In February 2024, the African Union banned the donkey skin trade after years of tireless lobbying by Brooke and other animal welfare organizations. The trade left many negatives on Africa; from eroding livelihoods to robbing the continent of its culture, biodiversity, and identity.

The AU's ban signals an end to the legal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of donkeys within the continent - the demand for the skin being at the heart of it.

The slaughter of donkeys for their skins is primarily driven by the demand for ejiao - a gelatin used in Traditional Chinese Medicine made from boiling down donkey skins. Despite its health benefits not having been substantiated to date, the demand for ejiao has decimated the donkey population in Africa.