The Kenyan government has temporarily banned the licensing of new donkey abattoirs following revelations that the animals face extinction due to the high demand for their products mainly by China.
"Going forward, all licences will be based on applicants providing a multiplication programme to arrest the rate of decline," said the director of Veterinary Services of Kenya, Dr Thomas Dulu.
In the last census of 2009, Kenya was estimated to have 1.8 million donkeys. But the numbers have been fast declining with the three existing abattoirs slaughtering an average of 300 donkeys daily. Petitions demanding the closure of the abattoirs have been on the rise as cases of donkey theft increase.
In China, the donkey population has declined by more than half in two decades, forcing the country to turn to Africa for the animals' meat, skins and hides. The hide is boiled to produce gelatine, a key ingredient in the manufacture of a traditional Chinese medicine called ejiao.
The moratorium on new abattoirs is just the first step government is taking to protect the animals.
Kenya also wants to embark on an elaborate trial breeding programme -- either through mare synchronisation or embryo transfer -- to boost donkey numbers.
The Veterinary Service will work with select ranchers on the programme. Mare synchronisation is seen as the best bet, in which the animals' reproductive cycles are controlled to ensure they give birth at the same time.
The programme will be the first of its kind in Africa, and Kenya hopes it will work, even though it has failed to produce the desired results in parts of the world including China.
Donkey breeding is a complex exercise that is rarely successful because the animals have long gestation periods of 11-14 months and the mares tend to spend time on their own.
Kenya is also developing a comprehensive policy document to regulate the donkey industry.