Why the Surin Project isn’t Just Good for Elephants

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You make WHAT out of the poo!?

Up until I worked at Elephant Nature Park 4 years ago, I didn’t even know you could make paper out of elephant poo. I thought it could be used for fertilizer and that’s about it.

It makes sense that the poo would make good paper though. A big part of an elephant’s diet is sugar cane, grass, and tree bark. All those fibers mixed together in the right way make great paper!

2 elephants eating sugarcane
Elephants eat A LOT which means they produce a lot of poo!

Not only does this help dispose of the poo, but it also reduces the amount of trees being cut down to make paper. If only more countries would adopt this method. Paper can be made out of many different herbivores’ poo, and it would help so much with deforestation.

Making Elephant Poo Paper

The first stage of making the poo paper is the messiest…..collecting the poo. I did the chore the first time I went to ENP, and I did it again when I worked at the Surin Project. It’s not as bad as it seems. You simply rake up the poo and use shovels to load it into a truck.

Then it’s taken to the paper factory.

Elephant poo being boiled to make paper
The poo being boiled. It doesn’t look too pretty now, but it gets better.

While I was at the Surin Project I got to see the paper factory (if you can really call it that). Basically it was an open air hut with a few pieces of equipment to make the paper, but hey it works!

First the poo has to be cleaned, and the fibers need to be broken down, which is done by boiling it for 4-6 hours. This process will also kill any bacteria lingering in the poo and will break down the fibers to an oatmeal like consistency.

Elephant poo paper making
The fibers are run through this machine to remove any large particles and pebbles.

The pulp is drained and rinsed. Then it’s mixed together with other natural fibers to give it more strength.

Next comes the coloring. Natural dyes are made from vegetables, flowers, and other organic products. A large sink is filled with water and the dye is added to it.

Elephant poo paper making
Dipping the screen into the pulpy water.

You take 2 big scoops of the poo fibers and drop them in the water. Using the scoop, you stir around the fibers to evenly disperse them.

Large rectangular screens are then used to collect the fibers. You take the screen and lower it into the sink vertically. Then slide the edge along the bottom of the sink so the fibers will settle on top if it. To get an even coating of fibers on the screen, you gently swish the frame back and forth a few times.

Elephant poo paper making
And now you have a good even layer of pulp on the screen!

Once you feel like there is an even player of pulp, gently pull the screen out of the water and place it on a rack to dry for a few hours.

And that’s it! You have yourself a nice piece of earth friendly paper to use as you please!!!

Elephant poo paper
The finished product! Good earth friendly poo paper.

Growing sugarcane

Another chore the volunteers had to do everyday was collect any left over sugarcane stalks from the enclosures. 

Most of the mahouts in the program own land where they grow sugarcane for their elephants. Normally these crops would be sprayed with pesticides to stop weeds from growing that are not only dangerous to the elephants but also harmful to the environment.

Sadie riding in a truck
On our way to collect sugar cane

Anyone who has done some gardening knows that a great way to keep weeds from growing is by mulching the garden, so that is what we did! 

Rather than waste the discarded sugarcane, we would load it up in a trailer, and take it to one of the fields. Then we would scatter the sugarcane making a nice layer of mulch.

Elephants eating sugarcane
The elephants sure do like their sugarcane!

Along with stopping the growth of weeds, this process would also cut out the need for buying new seed. Sugarcane grows a lot like bamboo. The new plants will simply sprout out of old stalks that have been cut, so the discarded stalks were stopping the growth of weeds AND producing the next wave of crop!

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