By Dominick Mezzapesa - Wildlife Planet News
If Kenyan entrepreneur John Matano has his way, one day soon when your boss drops a load of paper on your desk you can tell your him "Man that's a load of crap" and not get fired for it.
While elephant poachers are only interested in the animals’ tusks, for Kenyan entrepreneur John Matano it is all about what comes out of the other end of the world’s largest land mammal, that interests him.
The 58-year-old collects elephant dung that he turns into high quality paper and for a continuing supply of dung, he very much wants Kenya’s elephants to remain alive and well.
While some people might be a bit queasy about writing a love letter to their beloved on elephant poop paper, it is not some far off vision, in fact it's already happening.
A small but growing industry is thriving in the East African country, that now has 17 firms involved, according to official government figures.
“If you ask me ‘is paper from elephant dung of reasonable quality?’, the answer is a big yes,” says Mr Matano, whose business Nampath Paper employs 42 people, and makes an annual profit of 2.3m Kenyan shillings (about $23,000 U.S.).
Kenya’s elephant dung paper industry is centered on the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, a community-owned 36 sq km (14 sq mile) conservation area for elephants, 28 miles (45km) south west of the coastal city of Mombasa.
Mr Matano says that making paper from elephant dung “is not complicated at all, it is an easy affair”.
The feces, which are full of grass and other plant fiber that has been broken down by the elephant’s digestive system, is first thoroughly washed.
“After washing, the clean fibers remain,” says Mr Matano. “Then it is boiled for four hours in a vat to thoroughly ensure it is pristine.
“Then after that, much of the process is similar to that of making regular paper [from wood pulp].”
Mr Matano adds: “An average elephant eats 250kg of food each day. Out of that amount about 50kg of dung is produced, out of which 125 sheets of [A4] paper can be produced.
He says that both the price and quality are similar to standard paper, but with the added benefit of reducing deforestation and better relations between elephants and local farmers.
For generations, farmers came into conflict with Elephants walking into their farmlands and eating or destroying crops. This resulted in serious and sometimes deadly conflicts between humans and elephants.
In 1993 the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary was established adjacent to the national reserve, with financial assistance and support from the United States Agency for International Development, and UK animal charity Born Free Foundation.
Making the elephant dung paper started as a pilot project in 1994, before commercialization began a decade later when local farmers such as Mr Matano set up their own paper-making businesses.
Today, local farmers are receiving a portion of the profits from the paper and also from the tourism the sanctuary receives. The farmers for their part ceded part of their land to create a migratory elephant corridor between the Shimba Hills National Reserve, and the Tsavo West and Tsavo East national parks some 100km to the west.
Another Kenyan business making paper from elephant dung is established paper manufacturer Nairobi-based Transpaper Kenya.
While most of its products are made from different types of indigenous tree species, 20% now come from elephant dung.
“Paper from elephant dung is equal in quality to regular paper. In the price it is also almost the same,” says Jane Muihia, of Transpaper Kenya.
“It does not stink as it goes through all the regular stages of manufacture.” She adds that her company produced almost 3 tons of paper from animal dung, last year, and it expects that figure to triple by the end of this year.
Back at the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary its manager, Kafe Mwarimo, says that the elephant dung paper industry has so far helped more than 500 local people pull themselves out of poverty and with 600 elephants safely passing through using the established corridor, the raw material will not be in short supply.