Elephant Dung Piles On Profits For Village
2014-06-17

By James Wanzala

Products made from elephant dung.
Products made from elephant dung.

Kenya: In Mwaluganje in the southern coast of Mombasa, there was growing conflict between elephants that used the area as a corridor between Tsavo National Park and the Shimba Hills Reserve, and farmers who relied on the land for their livelihood.

To get a handle on the situation before it got out of hand, farmers were brought together by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Eden Wildlife Trust. They were persuaded to give up their land for the elephants and instead set up a sanctuary that would generate revenue for the community.

Compensation scheme

The infrastructure in the area was developed to include an electric boundary fence, and in 1995, the sanctuary was opened to the public by the then director of KWS, Dr David Western. It has been billed a unique success story in resolving human-wildlife conflict.

Currently, there are 300 community members involved in the daily running of the sanctuary. They share the annual profits (as compensation for not using their land) according to the number of acres given up.

The earnings come from gate collections and an elephant dung project (EDP).

“Whenever you come to Mwaluganje, you are helping a conservation-minded community and supporting conservation of a national treasure, the elephant,” said Mr Paul Musila, the sanctuary manager.

The community members have laudably capitalised on elephant dung to supplement their income. They collect elephant dung, store it for three days and then heat it by boiling to kill bacteria. It is then pounded using a traditional mortar and pestle, and waste paper is added to the mixture.

The two are mixed in different ratios, depending on the colour they want the final product to take on.

Making pulp

The mixture is put in a basin of water, stirred, scooped up with a frame and then dried on a table for three to six hours, depending on weather conditions.

The end product looks like thick paper, which is then cut to size, depending on what one intends to make. Thinner paper can be made by adding water.

Elephant dung is an ideal raw material for paper making as it is rich in fibre — elephants’ gastrointestinal tracts do not digest fibre well.

The community uses the paper to make envelopes, photo album covers, notebooks, journals and bookmarks.

According to Ms Musalim Charo, whom Business Beat found at the sanctuary making the products, the project, though in its initial stages, has the potential to be lucrative.

“The sanctuary is looking forward to getting modern blending machines, which will help us produce finer products that can compete aggressively with other products in the market,” she said.

They got the idea for the EDP from the East African Wildlife Society.

Mr Musila said in the early days of the project, they were earning Sh50,000 a month.

The notebooks cost Sh300, bookmarks Sh150 and envelopes Sh70.

“The sanctuary, on the other hand, can bring us Sh200,000 per month, though this depends on the number of visitors we get. East African residents pay a Sh300 fee, with the proceeds from the sanctuary used to construct schools, buy books and meet other community needs,” Musila said.

“When it comes to the EDP products, marketing is a challenge since we have not got a good market for our products. We currently have just a few hotels, like Shimba Lodge, where we can take our products. They sell them for us and we give them a commission.”

Great success

Entrepreneurs in places like India have had great success with making paper from the widely available elephant dung.

And in Thailand, a Canadian businessman, Mr Blake Dinkin, has used elephant dung to come up with one of the world’s most expensive coffees, Black Ivory Coffee.

Mr Dinkin’s coffee is sold at $1,110 (Sh96,700) per kilo. It is brewed from coffee beans consumed by elephants and then handpicked out of their dung.

It is thought that the elephants’ digestive process gets rid of some of the bitterness in coffee, giving rise to a product that is described by tasters as earthy in flavour and smooth on the palate.