Image for Forest wars: the Elephant poo solution

JAIPUR, India: A thousand-kilometre journey begins with a single step. Sometimes that step leaves a little something on your shoe.

Vijender Shekhawat’s big break came while visiting a shrine near the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India, when he glanced down at the pile of elephant dung he had just failed to avoid. A struggling maker of handmade paper, he noticed the texture of the plant-eating animal’s manure was a lot like wood pulp.

His family thought something else: he was stark-raving mad. Mr Shekhawat, 29, came from a warrior caste of bejewelled rulers and decorated generals.

‘‘We came from a dynasty that used to sit on thrones,’’ said his mother, Kaushalya Kanwar. ‘‘All we could think was, ‘How far have we fallen?’ ‘’

His principal buyer was also sceptical. ‘‘This is too strange,’’ Mahima Mehra, the head of papermaker Papeterie Co, recalls thinking.


Mr Shekhawat persevered despite early failures. At 100 per cent dung, the paper did not hold together. He settled on a 75 per cent dung-25 per cent cotton mix, and he was on his way.

Ms Mehra also warmed to the idea after researching it and finding it was made in Thailand, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

To counter cynics, they referenced Ganesha, an elephant-headed Hindu god, arguing that there was no harm in recycling divine waste. ‘‘Religion runs everything in this country,’’ Ms Mehra said.

‘‘Suddenly, scores of people wanted to work with the stuff.’‘

Mr Shekhawat’s next challenge was securing enough droppings. Fortunately, tourist-friendly Jaipur, the capital of the northwestern state of Rajasthan, is a magnet for elephants and their mahouts, or caretakers. Mr Shekhawat initially collected the dung wherever he could find it, but soon the wily mahouts realised that their once-worthless waste now held value.

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Los Angeles Times