All eyes and ears in the donkey world will be focused on the rural Chinese backwater of Donge county in Shandong province this week as dozens of international researchers meet to address the country’s growing appetite for the animal. Donkeys are big business in China where their skins are boiled for gelatin used in various traditional Chinese medicines touted either as sex, beauty or longevity aids. China’s demand for donkey skin is so great that it is endangering donkey populations worldwide. According to one estimate, China had 11 million donkeys in the 1990s. Now it’s down to about six million. The gap between supply and demand has forced Chinese factories to import donkey skins from other parts of the world. On average, about four million donkeys, half outside China, are killed every year to be skinned and turned into powders, tablets and face creams. Demand for traditional Chinese medicine fuelling rising slaughter of donkeys in Africa Dong-E-E-Jiao, the country’s biggest maker of a donkey-skin medicine, is hosting the three-day conference, which started on Tuesday and is being covered live by Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily and state television. Dong-E-E-Jiao chairman Qin Yufeng said China led the world in the donkey industry and was willing to shoulder more of the burden to find solutions to its problems. Qin said an international fund would be set up during the conference to usher in a “new era of technology and innovation” for the business of breeding and slaughtering donkeys. The company also said it was hitching a ride on the “Belt and Road Initiative” to lead the global donkey industry. Chinese health fad that’s decimating donkey populations worldwide The company’s stock price has doubled on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in the last three years, with sales in the first half of 2017 rising to 2.93 billion yuan (US$439 million) from 2.67 billion yuan a year earlier. According to the Qilu Evening News , conference organisers said the industry needed to harness the value of every animal. “China is working hard to explore the maximum value of each donkey – it is closely connected with the country’s economic development,” organisers were quoted as saying. Donkey skin just the tonic for China’s urbanites Opening the conference, Ren Xiaowang, deputy mayor of Liaocheng, which administers the county, said authorities in Shandong offered incentives to support the industry, with subsidies ranging from 1,200 yuan for one donkey to up to 300,000 yuan for 1,000 donkeys.