The link between wildlife trade and the global donkey skin product network
Su S., Macdonald EA., Beseng M., Thomaz F., Macdonald DW.
Unsustainable global wildlife trade impacts biodiversity and threatens national and global security, but many aspects of this trade remain opaque. Our study is a novel investigation of the alleged links between the trade in wildlife products and in donkey skins. The global donkey skin trade is a newly prevalent and lucrative business, largely driven by Chinese demand for E-Jiao, a traditional medicine derived from donkey skins. Records of donkey skins being seized alongside other wildlife products lead us to hypothesize that there is a link between these two trades. We identified all donkey skin dealers on seven business-to-business e-commerce websites and obtained 14,949 data points. These were used in a network analysis to demonstrate the structure of the network and reveal the connection between the products, including wild animal and plant products offered alongside donkey skins. We identified at least 13 groups of CITES-listed species in the densely connected donkey skin product network, demonstrated an association between the online trade in wildlife products and donkey skins, and discuss the implications of this overlap—including the potential to shed light on potential novel trade pathways in legal and illegal domestic animal and wildlife trade.