Considering that elephants are the largest land mammal on earth, it’s no surprise the elephant dung is equally as sizeable. In fact, the average full-grown Asian elephant consumes 150 to 200 kilograms of food each day. That’s a lot of food to digest and turn into elephant poo! With so much of it lying around, it’s no wonder that humans have found some very unique uses for this eco-friendly material.
Elephants spend almost 80% of their day eating, which means they’re also constantly digesting and excreting. An elephant can produce up to 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, of dung per day. This means they also defecate about 12 to 15 times each day. Over the span of a year, an elephant will produce over 40 tons of dung.
Since elephants only digest about half of their food, the elephant dung itself is mostly fibre. When scientists realized that up to 40% of elephant dung is easily-accessible cellulose, they determined that it could potentially be used to create paper. Since regular paper is made of wood fibre pulp, the fibre in elephant poo makes for the perfect replacement. This saves nearby forests of indigenous trees from being cut down and reduces deforestation in general. One elephant excretes enough dung to make 115 sheets of paper per day!
In many parts of the world, people use harmful chemical sprays to repel mosquitos. Elephant dung is a natural, non-polluting alternative! It works by simply lighting a piece of dung on fire, and the resulting smoke keeps mosquitoes away. People even use this smoke to heal headaches, toothaches, and other similar mild pains.
Would you believe that coffee beans found in elephant dung are worth $500 per pound? Elephants sometimes eat coffee beans, which then go through a fermentation process as they work through the elephant’s digestive system. This brings out a fruity, almost sweet flavour. It removes the bitterness that most people detect in coffee and leaves behind a chocolate-cherry taste. Of course, people must first collect the beans from the elephant poo, then wash, dry, and roast them. It’s served at five-star resorts in the Middle East and Asia under the name Black Ivory Coffee.
British painter Chris Ofili first visited Zimbabwe in 1992 and found an unlikely inspiration: elephant dung. He has since created a multitude of artwork using elephant dung as one of his mediums and gained worldwide fame for it.
Elephants are herbivores, so they eat a wide variety of plants. As a result, their dung is full of seeds. They also travel far and wide, which means their elephant poo is responsible for much of the thriving biodiversity in their habitat. The African savanna elephant has been found to transport seeds up to 65 kilometres, which is 30 times farther than savanna birds. Plus, a single elephant can deposit as many as 3,200 seeds each day. As such, elephants are critical for maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem.
Beyond the seeds, elephant dung also makes excellent compost. This is thanks to the fact that half of their food is only semi-digested when it makes its exit. The grass, bark, leaves, and fruit are great for the soil.
Who knew elephant dung could be such an eco-friendly, precious resource? If you’d like to support elephants, as well as artists, check out our latest collections! Interested in learning more about how Elephant Parade celebrates and contributes to elephant conservation? Read more here.