Tea plantations cover over 600,000 hectares of land in India, a significant chunk of India’s landscape. While elephants don’t eat tea leaves and aren’t a threat to the 1.3 million tonnes of tea India exports annually, the plantations are surprisingly dangerous for them. Elephants regularly travel through tea plantations to get from one foraging area to the next and are frequently unintentionally poisoned by drinking from water sources contaminated with pesticides or drowned by falling into drainage ditches. And it’s not only the elephants that are at risk; human tea pickers can be injured and killed if they accidentally get too close to an elephant during their work.
It’s a serious issue, one Elephant Family addressed for many years by funding the work of Dr. Anand Kumar in India’s Western Ghats. To protect plantation workers and other local residents from dangerous elephant encounters he set up an incredibly successful system of warnings via SMS, electronic billboard, and announcements on public transport to ensure that when an elephant is in the area, everyone in the community knows it and can safely avoid it. In the years he has been working in the area, the number of deaths caused by accidental elephant encounters has fallen from three per year to just one.
As well as working with local communities to ensure that human-elephant conflict is minimised, tea plantations that qualify for the Elephant Friendly™ certification must demonstrate that they’ve removed barriers to elephant movement through their plantations, including unsafe electric fences and dangerous drainage ditches, that there is no risk of elephants being poisoned by agrochemicals, or encountering razor wire, ingestible plastic waste and other hazardous objects. Initiatives like this one are vital to promoting safe coexistence between humans and elephants, ensuring their survival for years to come.
Waris Ahluwalia, actor, designer, and creator of HOUSE of WARIS Botanicals, has been a friend and supporter of Elephant Family for many years, and his new tea is sourced from the only certified organic, biodynamic, fair trade, and wildlife friendly estate in India. What’s more, £1 of the profit from each pack of tea sold will support Elephant Family’s conservation work, like our new project to promote human-elephant coexistence in Northeast India.
Collaborating with leading wildlife NGO Aaranyak, this exciting project will be empowering communities through educating local communities about elephants, human-elephant coexistence and biodiversity; training villagers to install safe, solar-powered electric fencing to protect their crops without harming elephants; and identifying other livelihood options for villagers and providing them with the training to effectively utilise them, so that they can generate extra income. Thus, we will reduce poverty by protecting lives and livelihoods, and by increasing incomes, while protecting elephants to reduce biodiversity loss.