New Beer Helping to Protect Elephants

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

How to match the often conflicting goals of protecting animal habitats and supporting local economies? One clever solution may draw amusement but is actually a sharp marketing strategy to get attention for a product that is helping to preserve the elephants of Thailand’s Golden Triangle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Triangle_(Southeast_Asia).

A beer flavored with a special ingredient – coffee beans that have passed through elephants – is generating profits that are plowed back into improving health services for the animals. The coffee beans excreted by elephants are roasted and turned into a high-quality coffee by a company in Thailand; this coffee is then used by a Japanese company to make a special beer brand that is getting attention and winning rave reviews.

The elephant dung coffee beans used in the beer are called Black Ivory (http://www.blackivorycoffee.com) and come from Thailand’s Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (http://www.helpingelephants.org). According to The Drinks Business, the coffee beans retail for US $100 per 35 grams.

The beans are of the Thai Arabica variety and grow at an elevation of 1,500 metres. Elephants consume the coffee cherries and excrete the beans as part of their diet. Once the elephants have excreted the beans in their faeces they are harvested, processed, sun dried and roasted.

It takes 10,000 beans to make a kilogram of roasted coffee, according to the Black Ivory website. A total of 33 kilograms of coffee cherries are consumed by the elephants to make a kilogram of the Black Ivory coffee.

Elephants in Thailand are used for various activties, from heavy work to providing rides for tourists. The riders of the elephants – called mahouts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahout) – and their wives also benefit from the manufacturing and sale of the coffee. The income is used to pay for health costs, school fees, food and clothing.

Additionally, 8 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the coffee beans pays for a veterinarian to provide care to the elephants. The money is also used to pay for their medicine and the setting up of a laboratory.

Elephants are much-revered in Thailand and feature in the country’s national iconography. They are listed as Protected Animals under Thailand’s Conservation Act 1992 (FAO). Many believe they should be classified as endangered. The last survey on the population was conducted in 1991 and elephant numbers were recorded as 1,900 (FAO).

The main threat to elephants comes from humans – in the form of poaching for the animals’ ivory tusks, their abuse in begging on the streets, and the destruction of forests where the elephants live.

The natural habitat and feeding grounds for the elephants have shrunk over the past decades. It is estimated the forest area in Thailand shrank from 80 per cent to 20 per cent between 1957 and 1992. Causes include major infrastructure projects, increasing farmland and the building of large resorts, all encroaching on the elephants’ territory. Limited space means elephants increasingly come into conflict with humans and this can lead to them being poisoned or killed.

But the success of the Japanese-brewed Kono Kuro beer is creating a new funding source for helping the elephants and doing some good.

The beer is brewed by Sankt Gallen brewery (http://www.sanktgallenbrewery.com) in Kanagawa, Japan using the Black Ivory coffee beans, imparting the beer with an earthy flavour. It may sound like a gimmick, but consumers have remarked on the beer’s distinctive taste, and sales do not lie: it has been a quick success, selling out within minutes of its launch in Japan.

The beer comes in dark bottles with a sandy coloured label elegantly illustrated with pictograms showing the process of turning the beans excreted by the elephants into beer. It is a humorous visual tale that makes the label stand out from other beer brands.

Brewer Sankt Gallen calls it a “chocolate stout” because of its rich, earthy flavour (it does not contain any chocolate, however).

Although bottles of the stout sold out after going on sale on the Sankt Gallen website, the brewery has said that it has plans to put the beer on tap at its new shop, which opened in Tokyo recently.

Resources

1) Coffee Alamid: Ethically produces the coffee harvested from the droppings of civet cats in the Philippines. Website: http://www.botecentral.net/

2) Save the Elephants: A campaign to stop the poaching of elephant ivory. Website: http://www.savetheelephants.org/

3) BBC Nature: Background on elephants. Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/African_elephant

4) WWF: Facts and background on elephants. Website: http://worldwildlife.org/species/elephant

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London Edit

31 July 2013

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