Dr. Amy McLean has always had a soft spot for long ears. The animal scientist at the University of California, Davis, grew up on a Georgia farm that bred donkeys and mules and has competed in mule riding world championships. Now, she studies donkey behavior and cognition, and she knows that despite popular negative stereotypes, donkeys are “highly intelligent and highly sensitive.”
No wonder she calls the current plight of the world’s donkeys “horrific.”
Over the past 6 years, Chinese traders have been buying the hides of millions of butchered donkeys (Equus asinus) from developing countries and shipping them to China, where they’re used to manufacture ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine. The trade has led to an animal welfare nightmare, along with a threat to donkey populations, the severity of which is only now emerging. Without drastic measures, the number of donkeys worldwide will drop by half within 5 years, according to a 21 November report by the Donkey Sanctuary, an international equine welfare charity based in Sidmouth, U.K. The crisis threatens many of the world’s rarer donkey breeds and a vital means of transport for the poor. But it is also spurring new studies of donkey biology—including how to speed their reproduction.
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