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VIDEO: In India, Elephant-Friendly Tea Is Brewing Change

By Maggie Fuller and Claudia Cardia

05.13.20

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Illustration by Claudia Cardia

World of Good is a video series featuring feel-good stories that often get buried in our newsfeeds. In this episode, we look at a tea certification program working to protect endangered elephants.

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Video transcript:
Your favorite cup of tea could be threatening India’s endangered Asian elephants. The country is the second largest producer of tea in the world, and its plantations are rife with hazards for the vulnerable pachyderms. But a new elephant-friendly certification process hopes to change ­­­that.

Asian elephants are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There is an estimated 40 to 50 thousand of them in the world—about 30,000 of which live in India.
In addition to poaching and habitat destruction, India’s Asian elephants also face danger on tea plantations: They can be poisoned by chemical fertilizers or injure themselves on razor wire or electric fencing or fall into irrigation trenches.

That’s where Elephant Friendly Tea comes in.

The certification program is a partnership between the nonprofit Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network and the University of Montana’s Broader Impacts Group. It sets standards for reducing the risks of elephant mortalities and injuries. For example, a tea plantation’s irrigation trenches should have bridges or be terraced so that elephants can cross easily, farmers should properly dispose of pesticides and herbicides, and they should use safe fencing.

Elephant Friendly Tea only began auditing plantations and tea gardens in November of 2019, but the program is already seeing growers eager to meet its standards. Currently, about 13 vendors source tea from certified growers and use the official elephant-friendly logo. You could sip a cup of elephant-friendly tea in cafes in from Bend, Oregon, to Porto, Portugal and beyond.

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Just look for that small black and white logo. It’s kind of, (ahem), a big deal.

Further reading

  • Why exactly is falling into an irrigation trench so hazardous to elephants? They are kind of like turtles—if they fall on their backs, they can’t right themselves. Baby elephants in particular can get caught in the trenches, and their mothers have gotten injured or even died trying to rescue them. National Geographic explores some of the other dangers, as well as local efforts to mitigate them in a story published earlier this year
  • African elephants are also endangered, threatened by culling operations as well as ivory poachers. In a 2016 article, AFAR contributor Mary Holland discovers that walking with the gentle giants at the Living With Elephants Foundation in Botswana can foster a powerful desire to help protect them. 

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