In a gruesome video that emerged from China recently, a number of donkeys — some as young as five months old — are seen being killed mercilessly for their skin, which is used in the making of a medicine, called ejiao. There is an increasing demand for the Chinese traditional medicine as many believe it helps increase blood circulation.

However, experts on Chinese medicine claimed that there are better and more effective alternatives to ejiao for boosting blood circulation.

The video released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) on 21 November showed farmers swinging a sledgehammer on a donkey's forehead and then slitting the animal's throat.

One of the donkeys seen in the video appeared malnourished, with his ribs sticking out, while another was frail and sick, and unable to walk. The latter was seen being dumped into the bucket of a tractor and hauled away.

"Donkeys as young as 5 months old have been bashed in the head and left to endure a slow, agonising death, all for an ingredient," Peta President Ingrid Newkirk said in a recent statement. "Peta is calling on kind people in China and everywhere else to choose only foods and medicines that do not contain donkey gelatin and to encourage their friends and family members to do the same."

The Asia wing of the animal rights group alleged that many donkeys, before being killed, are locked in filthy pens surrounded by their own faeces or urine. People use sledgehammer to beat the animals to death as it is the cheapest method, the rights group added.

"There is a misconception about ejiao — it is not the most effective medicine to improve blood circulation in spite of its long history in traditional medicine," according to Dr Lee Yuming, a doctor of Chinese medicine. The doctor told Peta Asia that many other options "that are much more effective in improving one's health, including modern drugs and herbal medicines" have emerged these days and ejiao is not the best treatment, yet people resort to brutal killings of donkeys to make the medicine.

What is Ejiao?

Ejiao, pronounced as eh-gee-yow, is a hard gel which is dissolved in hot water or alcohol to be used in food or drink. It is also used in beauty products such as face creams and can also be used as an anti-ageing treatment or even as a remedy for insomnia. Beauty products laden with ejiao have also become popular in the US, the Peta statement noted.

It added that donkeys are now being imported into China from other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and South America for slaughter to meet the growing demand within the country and abroad.

Ejiao is believed to improve blood circulation and thus, used as a blood tonic by people with anaemia, low blood cell counts or reproductive problems, according to The Donkey Sanctuary website. It added that there has been a sharp decline in the donkey population in China due to the increased demand for ejiao. "There used to be around 11 million donkeys in China but the number has dropped to 6 million in the last 20 years," it noted in an article.

"Most of these are being bought and sold by dealers but a significant number of donkeys are also being stolen from their owners," the international charity said.

Further, the makers are now reportedly using other animals in the production of fake ejiao like horses, pigs, and cows, who are suffering the same gruesome fate as the donkeys.

In 2016, several African countries banned China from buying donkeys from them. They said that the demand was proving unsustainable. Burkina Faso also banned the Asian power from specifically buying donkey skins.