The Donkey crises is a part of a much wider crises of the role, and status, of nature in the continuous social development processes of humanity. The change in the dominant socio-historical role of the donkey as a pack animal in many parts of the world is due to development of modern system of transportation. There is thus a certain measure of disregard, and the abandonment of donkeys to their own fate – a development which has resulted into various acts of neglect and cruelty to the donkey. In response, a good number of people are appealing for a more charitable attitude to donkeys – resulting in the establishment of sanctuaries as well as laws and regulatory policies which would help to improve the welfare of donkeys.  In addition the increasing tendency to human consumption of donkey meat, as well as the high demand for its skin as raw material in the production of Ejiao, have added new dimensions to the problem.

The paper draws attention to the significance of nature as a non-renewable resource in opposition to the existing tendencies to its wanton, unregulated and inconsiderate exploitation resulting in cruelty to animals in a manner that could lead to their extinction. In addition there is the related problem of environmental degradation.  A survey of the role of the donkey as a pack animal shows that it has earned to be respected, and fairly treated, in the scheme of things even if only on the basis of its services to mankind as a very long-standing and important domestic animal, in general, and its key role as a pack animal, in the economic ascent of man, over a long period of time. The paper draws attention to the fact that the challenges currently affecting the well-being of the donkey could, on closer evaluation also help to overcome the crises for good, through the provision of new opportunities that might lead to the formulation of policy regulations, and the provision of sustainable investments, towards more efficient systems for the formal breeding and cultivation, or farming, of donkeys. In a similar manner the introduction of some required technical innovations, that would help to modernise and improve the traditional transportation and traction role of the donkey, could indeed help to make the existing population even more functional and better adapted to its new circumstances and environments.



Let me start my presentation, on this very important occasion, by thanking the Donkey Sanctuary and “Nigeria Now” Magazine for inviting me to serve as a guest speaker at this highly commendable event. I would further use the occasion to welcome the Donkey Sanctuary, and all those associated with it, to Nigeria. Nigerians have a lot to expect from the Donkey Sanctuary in much the same way that  the organisation looks forward to the support and cooperation of Nigerians in relation to its mission in the country.

When I was approached to make a contribution on this occasion I readily accepted the invitation due to a number of very important reasons. The first is the fact that there is a dearth of knowledge, or indeed the deliberate disregard, of the indispensable role of mother nature in socio-historical development resulting in the under-estimation, and lack of an overall appreciation, of the role of nature in the socio-historical development of mankind. On this basis the role of the donkey in the development of mankind in general, and West African societies in particular, has been distorted by prejudices, disregard and distain for the animal rather than by any objective study or appreciation of its role, and status, in human development process. This fact was brought home to me when, in 1988, we attempted to create a recreational centre for children that would also serve to educate them about the history and culture of their society at Gidan Dan-Hausa in Kano city. The second issue is the current plight of the Donkey in Nigeria  and the third is the possibility of doing something about it. I highlight these issues hereunder in order for us to understand how best to appreciate them. After this I look at the wider humanitarian issues, as well as the socio-historical matters, associated with the topic.

Three Issues Relevant To The Donkey Crises In Nigeria

In creating the recreational centre earlier referred to, what we did was to throw into the park certain animals we believed would also be of interest to visitors due to their cultural and historical importance in the local community. We threw in a camel, a horse and an ostrich. These are animals which are held in high esteem because their functions, and appreciation, in the historical development of the societies concerned have been more highly studied, popularised and acclaimed. To cut a long story short not long after this an old, long distance trader, bafatake (pl Fatake), came calling to my office. When I gave him audience he expressed his surprise that we had not put any donkey in the recreational centre. He then went on to give me what I believe was an eye-opening lecture on the supreme and beneficial role that the donkey had played in the historical development of commerce in the West African zone – both in the precolonial as well as the colonial period. After he left I came to the realisation that in virtually all of our current literature and history books the specific, supreme and beneficial role the donkey had played had hardly ever been given the serious attention it deserves, although such a significance is never in doubt or hard to fathom. The fact is that the donkey has been under-appreciated partly because the very important role it had played has been greatly under-reported. There is thus more of a tendency to perceive the donkey through the lenses of our own personal, or collective, prejudices as stupid, stubborn etc – prejudices which scientific studies of, as well as a intimate acquaintances with, donkeys have tended to disprove. This is what makes the task of educating the public about the nature, as well as the objective role and status, of the donkey in human affairs a very important task. This would help not only to overcome some existing prejudices but also promote the kind of appreciation, empathy and concern that would help tackle the present plights of the donkey.

The second issue which has always been of concern to me is the current plight of the donkey in Nigeria, especially since the late 1970’s. This is mainly because various Nigerian governments have, over the years, failed to provide policies, programmes and schemes designed to address the key problems inhibiting the development of the livestock sector in general, and the donkey population in particular, since independence. As a result not only have the critical values of both fauna and flora, as natural resources, not been effectively factored into the development process even their recognition as living things, with definite regenerative needs, has thus hardly been taken into consideration. There is therefore hardly any pan for their protection against the kind of destruction and abuses that could lead to their eventual depletion. There are no policies applied, on any continuos and sustainable bases, by the independent governments in Nigeria, designed to adapt wildlife and the domestic livestock to the new demands facing them. For example the increasing development of the local consumption of donkey meat in the country, as well as the export of donkey skins, have hardly come under any effective regulatory process. The result is the increasing development of an environment characterised by the disregard of, as well as cruelty to, animals in a manner constituting serious abuses of Animal Rights for all domestic animals, as well as wildlife, in the country. Many attempts to draw the attention of government, and cause it to initiate measures to arrest the situation, seem to have simply fallen on deaf ears resulting in the appalling conditions we witness today.

The third and final reason that encouraged me to be here is the belief that occasions of this nature, which help to domesticate and localise matters of international concern, also facilitate the internationalisation of local problems and provide important avenues for exerting concerted efforts towards the solution of such critical, new and universal problems. In order to fully appreciate the nature of the problems we are here to address it is important that we look at the Donkey crisis in its broader, global socio-historical dimensions.

The Wider Dimensions of the Problem

Anybody familiar with the key concerns of our world-epitomised in the various policies and programmes of the United Nations Organisation (UNO), will readily testify to the fact that these concerns centre around the need to ensure peace as the basis for the development and well-being of mankind. The necessity for peace is in many ways associated with the technological capabilities, for both material production and self-destruction, developed by man. Alongside this development is the related increase in socio-political rancour, and conflicts, at the level of international relations as well as within each nation-state.

The ‘advanced’ nature of contemporary human social development has, on the whole, also spawned a number of crises in its relations with nature, of which it is a part. These crises indicate the dysfunctional influence of some of man’s activities on mother nature. By way of example we can cite the issue of climate change, environmental pollution and the related problem of global warming. Another important manifestation of this problem is the over exploitation, abuse and possible extinction, or destruction, of various aspects of natures non-renewable resources in the form of fauna, flora and mineral resources. Campaigns by different organisations aimed at addressing such problems have resulted in the establishment of various international agreements and protocols as well as independently sponsored NGO’s, programmes and schemes. Many of such organisations, like the Donkey Sanctuary, are concerned not only with the immediate problems of cruelty to animals but also the need for safeguarding them from possible extinction.

The wider dimensions of contemporary development processes thus seek to fully recognise, factor and facilitate policies that appreciate the indispensible and primary role of nature in the development process. These are new assertions of the necessity for rationality, vision and humanism in social development – beyond the practice of mere propaganda. This, thus, calls for a redefinition of the development of human society, or civilization, beyond only, or principally, certain identified levels of technological achievements. It calls for the recognition and application of humanism, or humane consideration in the form of compassion, in all human affairs at all levels – particularly those involving man’s relations with his fellow men and the natural environment, in particular the non-human animals. In short it is a call to view nature more as a partner, than only a mere object that deserves to be conquered and dominated by us. It is a call for inclusivity and responsibility, rather than exclusion, disregard and discrimination in both nature and society. It is the view that only a balanced as well as considerate approach to social development will help to ensure its integrity and sustainability as well as fairness to all those involved, in one way or the other, in its creation.

The deficit in “concerned human consideration”, or humanism, which translates into lack of compassion for animals, is largely responsible for their present plight. The problem of cruelty to animals is not limited to human-nature or human-animal relations only. Many studies in psychology and criminology have shown that those who are habitually cruel to animals do not stop there. They tend to also perpetrate violent criminal acts against other human beings. They tend to constitute the psychopaths that engage in serial murders as well as violence against women and children.

It is such inconsideration, when they are politicised and extended to human societies, that underlie the superiority syndrome and exclusionary dispositions of certain ideological persuasions, such as fascism. It is an attitude which feeds on assumed superiority without any sense of responsibility to those considered different, weak or inferior. It is thus promotional of discrimination against those that are ill-considered in various forms resulting in racism and tribalism or the abuse of women, children, the elderly and the disabled as is most clearly advocated in the works of one of the leading fascist leaders of the modern world. (Hitler, Adolf 1940 P. 258ff).

It is also important to note that a subdued sense of superiority, or social status, tends to promote respect for those considered different, or ill-fortuned, because it tends to see them as equals in terms of our most common, and therefore equal, need for survival and well-being. Charity, and responsible obligations to those who are different from or weaker than us, thus tends to affirm a basic equality rather than some assumed “superiority” which is usually the quest for a criminal license to victimise and abuse other peoples, animals or things.

A Summary Survey Of The Role And Status Of The Donkey In The Socio-Historical Development Of West Africa.

A general survey of formal studies of the economic history of West Africa over the last three, or so, millennia leads one to two interrelated, conclusions. The first is that the formation of communities, states and societies in West Africa over the last two or three thousand years is associated with massive economic development at every level. A development  which tended to lead to the integration of various communities at several levels and, in particular, the formation of a vast network of trading or commercial relations at various levels within the West African region as well as at the levels of its interregional relations with North, Central and Eastern Africa. The second observation is the fact that although the donkey is the leading and quintessential beast of burden in the region, as well as in the regions relations with other parts of Africa, the role of the donkey is not clearly noted, elaborated upon and studied in virtually all the literature concerned. As a result the fact that the great economic achievements of the region ranging from the Trans Saharan trade to the intra-regional trade of precolonial West Africa, as well as the import-export trade of the colonial period were all made possible, and practically achieved, on the back of the donkey is never clearly brought out. The camel which has been widely celebrated as “the ship of the desert” was only second to the donkey as a pack animal in Africa, in general, and West Africa in particular. In all the other regions bordering the Sahara, and particularly in the whole of West Africa including its semi-arid regions, it was the donkey that served almost as the sole beast of burden. Pack animals such as oxen (takarkari) and ponies (alfadari) were greatly restricted, in both their numbers and functions, for them to constitute any major forms of transportation in the region. The donkey was indeed used as the pack animal for traversing the tsetse-infested rain forest areas despite the fact that it could not thrive, on any permanent basis, in the environment.

In the whole of the West African region, therefore, the donkey served as the most important and the major means of local, as well as long-distance, transportation. However, as noted by Blench “Although donkeys are both widespread and economically important to their owners, they are rarely studied and are not usually the object of improvement, development and loan schemes”. (Roger Blench, 2012, Pl.). Probably one of the largest, if not the largest, destination for donkeys engaged in commercial transportation in both the precolonial and colonial periods was Kano. It was the terminus for the Trans-Saharan Trade as well as the major centre for the intra-regional trade of West Africa. Donkey caravans from the rural areas to Kano City, as well as those leaving Kano city for various destinations on the Trans-Saharan route and the routes to other West African destinations as well as the central and Eastern Africa Regions were always on the move. Indeed even the colonial trade for the export of primary products, and the import of colonial manufactures, greatly depended on donkeys beyond the railway terminals concerned. Haulage to and from such terminals was largely the work of the donkey. Where the donkey was not, for any reason, available or too costly for those ferrying goods to afford, the tendency was for head porterage to supplement or prevail.

In order to fully appreciate the role played by the donkey in the social and economic life of West Africa it is important to note that it was virtually a member of a majority of households in both the urban and rural areas. It was the major domestic animal. It was involved in many household chores such as fetching water, firewood, building material, food stuff as well as carrying manure to the farm. It was critical to the organic farming system prevailing in the community – which at that time largely supported the production of food stuff and raw material without any heavy reliance on chemical fertilisers etc.

It was possible the donkey population was only second to that of humans in urban centres engaged in major commercial activities. This was because not only was it a taboo to slaughter donkeys for consumption they were also relatively well-cared for due to their economic importance and existing social sanctions. They tended not only to be important sources of income for many families but also constituted important means of transportation for women, children and the disabled. In fact they were used to assess the standing, or wealth, of merchants. For example some of the wealthiest merchants in Kano, like Kundila, Maikano Agogo and Dantata were said to have not known how many heads of donkeys they owned for the stringing of their various caravans.

Beyond its domestic use the donkey constituted the principal pack animal for transportation to and from the farms, they equally constituted the principal pack animals in all industrial sites transporting such minerals as natron, iron ore and stone products to wherever they were needed, in addition to the transportation of manufactured goods, food stuff and raw material to all types of markets in the region.

The plight of the donkey today is therefore not simply due to the mere development of modern and more efficient mode of transportation. It has more to do with the failure to adapt it to new needs or factor it towards more effective services for the millions of poor, and rural, people who greatly need it.



What has been referred to as the donkey crisis is indeed a very serious affliction for donkeys, as well as a very trying challenge for humanity. It is a crisis which deserves major changes in our altitudes to nature in general, and the donkey in particular, for its solution.

The primary key to this solution lies in the kind of stakeholder organisations available, and the degree to which they exert themselves towards the solution of the problem. Critical to this process is public education and policy advocacy designed to promote positive attitudes towards the solution of the problem, as well as the formulation of relevant policies and laws that would greatly help to generate required investments as well as put in place required prohibitions in line with the various existing recommendations. Of critical importance in this regard is the need to establish schemes and programmes, as well as sanctuaries, that address cruelty to donkeys in Nigeria. Regulating the mode of sales, procurements, transportation and storage of such animals also need to be properly looked into. Schemes of donkey farming which overcome existing threats to their existence, constitute very important factors. Finally, alternative sources for acquiring the essential raw materials for the production of Ejiao need to be urgently promoted.


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