Sunday, January 13, 2008

Elephant Poo Paper

When elephants travelling to Jaipur’s Amber Fort stop to answer nature’s call, the tourists on their backs may groan “what a waste of time”. But for one man, the breaks mean big bucks.

Vijendra Singh Shekhawat has struck gold by turning the dung left behind by the 200-odd elephants into paper.

Indians might be squeamish about paper made from “elephant poo” — as the stamp on the sheets declares — but Shekhawat has found that it is a hit abroad. The paper is exported to Germany and the UK.

Dung paper has increased Shekhawat’s income by 20 per cent.

The idea of turning elephant waste into paper dawned on Shekhawat while he was driving past Amber Fort one day. “I saw the dung spread across the road and noticed that there was a lot of fibre,” he said.

Shekhawat did not waste time and began experimenting immediately. But it took him eight or nine months to finally figure out the right proportions.

The process is the same as making any handmade paper.

After collecting the dung — only the best quality, which comes at Rs 2,000 a trolley, will do — it is cleaned in water tanks so that only the fibre remains.

Softer after being cooked, the fibre is dried and sorted. Then it is put into moulds on which muslin cloth is pressed to make paper.

“The colour of the dung varies depending on the fodder the elephant is eating,” Shekhawat said.

He has tried feeding the elephants different types of food to get different colours. But so far, the animals have stuck to their regular diet of sugarcane and jowar.

Elephant dung paper may sound like a bizarre idea in India, but in Sri Lanka and Thailand, it has been done.

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