Animal rights groups say that donkeys from Africa, Australia and South America, are being stolen for their skin which is central to a Chinese health fad.
A villager in Africa has formed a protest group to picket a local abattoir which they accuse of driving the skin thefts.
It comes after three severed heads of his donkeys were found by village children recently, according to the Associated Press.
Fourteen African governments have banned the export of donkey skins as many Africans rely on them for farm work and transporting heavy loads.
Animal rights groups claim agents all over the African continent are seeking to feed China’s appetite for a gelatin called ejiao (pronounced “uh-jee-ow”), made from stewed donkey skins that is claimed to provide health benefits.
Most of the world’s ejiao is made in a town in the east of China called Dong’e where billboards make claims for its curative powers, saying: "Ejiao, eat for a long life, lose weight, and get more energy."
China’s government health agency said ejiao marketing was based on “superstitious concepts.”
“Donkey hide is just ‘boiled donkey skin,’” the commission said in a February statement on the micro-blogging site, Sina Weibo.
The falling numbers of donkey herds in China means producers are looking outside the country for donkey skins.
The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya charity says that the country's three licensed slaughterhouses butcher 1,000 donkeys a day to supply skins to China, with the donkey population plummeting from 1.8 million to 1.2 million in the last nine years.
The surge in ejiao demand has driven the price of donkey hides up by nearly five times and countries such as Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Botswana have built donkey abattoirs in response.
According to Donkey Sanctuary, more than two million of the world’s 44 million donkeys are killed for their skins every year.