Wildlife & Biodiversity

As told to Gujarat Vidhan Sabha: State’s donkeys, camels in peril

Chinese medicine responsible for decline in donkey population; lack of grazing areas and mechanisation responsible for camel’s decline

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Wednesday 30 March 2022

The population of donkeys and camels in Gujarat has declined 71 per cent and nine per cent respectively, the state’s livestock minister told the legislative assembly recently.

Gujarat’s mules and donkeys had declined to 11,291 in the 2019 Livestock Census, from 38,993 in 2012, Raghavji Patel told the assembly in an answer to a question. The population of camels in Gujarat declined to 27,620 in 2019, from 30,415 in 2012.

Patel did not give a specific reason but said the increasing mechanisation of transport was to blame for the decline.

Down To Earth inquired from equine and camelid experts as to what the reasons were.

“Our report (released in February 2022) clearly states that donkeys are being stolen illegally across Gujarat and the rest of the country for slaughter. The reason: donkey skin is used to make a Chinese medicine called ‘ejiao’ that is supposed to have healing properties,” Priya Pandey, senior programme leader, external affairs, Brooke International, a non-profit based in Ghaziabad, said.

Ejiao has earned worldwide notoriety. It has, in recent years, caused the decline of donkey populations in China. The country has been looking to Africa and Pakistan for fresh supplies, according to media reports.

“Donkey meat is eaten in some parts of India but that is a very small section. We have also come across reports of donkey blood being consumed by athletes for the supposed energy it provides,” Pandey said.

She added that the non-profit had approached the Animal Husbandry department in Delhi that had offered support.

“The government has ordered border police and respective departments to keep an eye on such illegal slaughtering which takes place usually in the wee hours of the day,” she said.

Pande said while it was not in India’s control to stop the demand for ejiao from China but the illegal slaughter and theft of donkeys in India could be stopped.

“It is a neglected species. Mechanisation of transport has led to this. But we can have donkey farms. We can also create a market for donkey milk which is very nutritious,” she said.    

An expert, who declined to be named said there had been an overall decline in the state’s camel population. The reasons were lack of grazing resources, people shifting to other occupations and shrinking of migratory routes.

Ramesh Bhatti, programme director, Sahajeevan, a non-profit operating from Kutch, agreed. “Grazing areas for camels such as forest areas, revenue common lands have declined. There are restrictions on grazing in many areas. Many grazing areas have been converted to wind farms and solar farms,” he said.

Another reason is that male camels are no longer being used in transport, border security and tourism.

However, Bhatti offered some hope.

“In the past few years, we have formed a breeder association for the ‘Kharai’ breed of camels, organised health camps for them and established a camel milk dairy. The dairy has caused many pastoral youth to return to camel herding since they now have an income,” he said.

All this had led to improvements since the decline in Gujarat’s camel population being seen since 2007 had now started reversing for both, the ‘Kutchi’ and ‘Kharai’ breeds, Bhatti said.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.