By Kiptanui Rutto
Donkey owners in Kajiado County have decried the increase of the loss of their precious animals to thieves who slaughter them and supply the meat to unknown sellers.
It is believed those who steal the donkeys are motivated by the current skin business and not for meat since those found to have been slaughtered in most cases the skin and hooves are always missing.
As most of the residents have called for the closure of the donkey slaughter houses to safe the first reduction of the most useful animal, others praise the legalization of the abattoir since it has brought the increase in price of the golden animal.
Recently, the exporters of the donkey meat, now a lucrative business, won a battle with the government when a Naivasha High Court overturns the ban on the slaughter of the animals.
The Minister for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives Cabinet Secretary, Peter Munya had issued a gazette notice to ban the business in March this year but the owners of a Naivasha based slaughterhouse moved to court to challenge it.
The traders, whose exports target the Chinese market, had cried foul when the ban was imposed saying they incurred heavy loses but most donkey farmers who use them for transport and other farm jobs say the business give them sleepless nights as donkey thieves terrorize them day in day out.
In Ongata Rongai, two donkeys were slaughtered recently near the bridge that joins the town to Kambi Moto (SGR station) while a few days before, another donkey was found slaughtered near River Side Complex few meters from the same bridge.
Donkeys also known as ‘Beasts of Burden’ are very useful in the town that has now good network of piped water which sometimes runs dry due to scarcity of the commodity. It is not only in Rongai or Kajiado where water shortage is common, Kitengela, Ngong, Kiseria and other towns across the country experience the challenge and this is where the animals comes to the rescue of the residents.
Speaking to this reporter, Steve Umtundu one of the water vendors using a donkey said apart from the residents who depend on them for water, their families too depend on the animal. It pays rent, school fees and food but when someone slaughters it they just get few coins for the day.
On meat, Umtundu said many people in Kenya have eaten the donkey, Kwani hii nyama inaendanga wapi (Where do you think this meat is taken to?).
The victim of the current incident is Ben Kamau. He said the business is one of the best and from it he has bought two motorbikes operating within the town. Asked if he will replace the donkey he said: “Definitely I have to since that is what has raised my family.”
He wondered why someone has to bring down somebody’s income generating business for the gain of few coins saying the perpetrators only take the meat and leave the bones, hooves and the head making it hard for their customers to identify the meat.
In Kitengela, James Kariuki, one of the owners and water vendor said they do not care who buys, eat or where it is sold to since people have eaten the donkey’s meat before and no one has died.
“These thieves have ruined the livelihood of the owner because the job that the animal was doing was enough to cater for the family. The owner earns from it, so if you slaughter, where will the family depend on?” James posed.
For Umtundu, he has lost 12 donkeys since he started the business in 2002. He said due to the risk, he has to save some money to buy another one if incase the one he has is stolen.
In Loitokitok, Kimana, Birika and surrounding areas, the donkeys are used in perform farm work and sometimes due to state of drought in the area, the animals were given out free to neighbours to carry water and transport farm produce to local markets due to poor state of roads in the area.
Today, the tale is different because of the high demand of the animal. A grown donkey that was sold at KSh6,000 to KSh8,000 in 2014 is now sold for between KSh14,000 to Sh20,000.
Early this year, Naivasha water vendors went to the streets to demand closure of the abattoir suspecting that it buys their stolen donkeys. Its skin is much expensive than the meat due to its medicinal content.
Donkey slaughtering has been rampant across the country since the establishment of the first donkey abattoir in Mogotio, Baringo County followed by two others; Goldox Kenya Ltd that was established in Chemogoch in Baringo County at a cost of Sh300 million while another plant was set up in Naivasha. This was meant for the Chinese market but the thieves have invaded the market and are selling their meat to local black-market while the skin is sold to brokers for export.
However, some slaughter houses have started rearing the animals. For instance, in Mogotio, there are 208 employees rearing 102 donkeys and other jobs in the six acre breeding ground and bottle feeding foals.
A donkey takes 14 months to mature. The challenge faced by donkey breeders is that most those donkeys from arid areas like North Eastern Juba Land and some parts of Tanzania die because of stress and climate change.
According to FAO, in 1992, it was estimated that the population of donkeys in the world was 44 million with China leading with 11 million followed by Ethiopia with 5 million. Today the population in China is at 2.6 million.
Kenya had 1.8 million but now it stands at 1.2 million. It is on the record that over 300,000 donkeys were lost in Machakos and Kitui since 2016. With this rate, donkeys will be extinct by the year 2023.