NIAMEY – The Republic of Niger has banned the export of donkeys, warning that a three-fold increase in trade, mainly to Asian countries, is threatening its donkey population.

“If the export continues the animals will be decimated,” a government official told the BBC on Tuesday.

“About 80,000 donkeys have been exported so far this year compared to 27,000 last year,” Atte Issa, at Niger’s livestock ministry, said.

The government has also banned the slaughter of any donkeys within Niger.

The ban was issued through a joint decree by Niger’s ministries of farming, finance and internal affairs and trade.

China imports many donkey hides, using the gelatin in medicinal tonics, aphrodisiacs and anti-ageing creams.

In August, neighbouring west African nation Burkina Faso banned the export of donkey skins on similar grounds.

Trade in donkeys has become so profitable that livestock sellers are abandoning other animals for the donkey trade. A donkey now costs between $100 (£75) and $145, when it used to cost about $34.

Gelatin made from donkey skin is highly prized in China as a medicinal tonic, thought to nourish the blood, boost the immune system and act as a general pick-me-up. It is sometimes referred to as one of the “three nourishing treasures” (zi bu san bao), along with ginseng and the antlers of young deer.

Donkey gelatin is sometimes mixed with walnuts, goji berries and other tonic foods and sold in dark, gummy slabs that can be eaten as a snack.

Health and longevity is a Chinese national obsession, and tonic foods like this are often lavishly packaged and presented as expensive gifts.

Aside from gelatin, donkey meat is a delicacy in some Chinese regions, especially in the north of the country.

Donkey meat may also be made into soups and stews.