Animal rights groups in Zimbabwe are resisting the opening of the country's first ever donkey abattoir, saying such a venture will wipe out the animals and impoverish communities.
The Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe, Spana and Lupane Developments Trust, said the abattoir set to open in the second city of Bulawayo, would be a disaster.
"Zimbabwe has an estimated population of 150,000 donkeys, spread over the communal areas where they are an integral part of community life," the organisations said in a joint statement.
"The proposed abattoir in Matabeleland can process 70 animals per day.
"If supply met demand, using 300 working days per year, the population of donkeys could be decreased by 21,000 donkeys per year," the statement added.
"Donkeys are not suited as intensive production animals, since they have long gestation periods, high foal mortality, and slow foal development rates.
"Housed in unhabituated groups, donkeys suffer from a stress-induced condition called hyper-lipemia which can kill them.
"There currently is no ethically acceptable method of intensively farming donkeys, and the demand for the skin trade far exceeds the rate at which they can be produced."
The organisations said although some local farmers may benefit from the short-term sale of their donkeys, they were unlikely to be aware of the long-term consequences.
They said a number of African countries that had licensed donkey abattoirs had to reverse their policies after realising that the animal population was being decimated.
According to the organisations, the main driver in the donkey parts trade was the demand for their skins, which are processed into a luxury tonic ejiao, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine for almost everything, from insomnia to impotence.
The organisations said they also feared that Zimbabwe would not be able to regulate ethical trade in donkeys.
"In numerous other countries in the world currently tackling the skin trade, none has managed to regulate a humane, environmentally sound trade in a way that benefits donkey-owning communities, and all have seen a significant and devastating illegal, underground trade," the statement said.
"We would therefore ask that Zimbabwean authorities consider these facts before legitimising a practice that belongs to another country's culture."
They proposed a number of reforms before trade in donkeys could be allowed including informing farmers of the possible negative future consequences of the development.