Nairobi: Animal rights activists urged Kenya Thursday to ban the slaughter of donkeys for Chinese medicine, a practice which has soared in recent years, decimating populations of the animal in Africa.
Donkey skins are exported to China to make a traditional medicine known as ejiao, which is believed to improve blood circulation.
It was once the preserve of emperors but is now highly sought after by a burgeoning middle-class.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) told AFP that an investigation inside Kenyan slaughterhouses showed animals being cruelly beaten by workers, or dead after long truck journeys from neighbouring countries.
"PETA is calling for Kenya to join many other African nations in banning the slaughter of donkeys. There is simply no need for this cruelty, (the medicine) is not even something that has been shown to be effective," said PETA spokeswoman Ashley Fruno.
China is increasingly looking to Africa to satisfy demand as its own donkey population has nearly halved in recent years.
Several African countries have banned the export of donkey skins and closed Chinese-owned slaughterhouses, meaning thousands are now trucked long distances into Kenya from countries like Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia.
"There are virtually no laws against the abuse of animals on farms or in slaughterhouses in Kenya, so none of the violence captured in the footage is punishable from a legal standpoint," PETA said in a statement.
The government has not responded to a request for comment.
John Kariuki, the manager of a slaughterhouse where alleged abuse was observed, told AFP: "Whoever saw donkeys beaten inside my slaughterhouse is a liar and should look for something else to talk about."
Alex Mayers of the UK-based animal welfare organisation The Donkey Sanctuary said stories about the trade first began emerging in 2016, with tales of people waking up in the morning to find all of their donkeys had been stolen in the night, often skinned a short distance away.
"It started to happen across all corners of Africa, then even wider to Brazil, Peru, Pakistan, all over we were seeing the same photos, the same stories." An investigation by the body in 2017 found the donkey skin trade was inhumane and "completely unsustainable", he said.
As the main export is the skin, "it doesn't really matter if a donkey is beaten or bruised by the time it is slaughtered, there is no incentive at all to keep donkeys in good welfare," said Mayers.
In Tanzania, there had been cases of slaughterhouse workers using sledgehammers to kill donkeys, he added. "We've seen cases in Botswana where donkeys have been rounded up and machine-gunned. In South Africa slaughter operators have admitted using hammers to kill the donkeys, or... skinning them alive."