Indian jumbo's poo paper finding consumers in UK, Germany

The brainchild of retailer Mahima Mehra and Jaipur-based handmade paper producer, Vijendra Shekhawat, the journey with elephant poo paper called 'Haathi Chaap' started in 2003.

"I and Vijendra were walking up to Amer Fort when the idea of making paper came to me as I saw mounds of elephant waste every few steps. It also has a lot of fibre which is main element of paper making," says Mahima Mehra, a psychology graduate from Lady Sri Ram college.

Elephants apparently have a bad digestive system, which makes their dung highly fibrous, resulting in good quality paper.

Despite prior experience in paper making, the duo had to experiment for around an year and half to produce their first paper sheet from elephant dung.

"The process of making elephant poo paper is similar to that of making any other handmade paper, with the additional challenge of disinfecting the dung thoroughly," says Mehra.

Mehra had to convince the Rajputs to touch elephant dung, as the paper making process requires manually cleaning the dung.

"After initially failing in my attempt, I invoked Lord Ganesha and told them that there is no harm in recycling the waste of God," recalls Mehra, adding that the trick worked for her.

The colour of the paper depends on what the elephants eat. The paper is darker from June to September, when the elephants eat jowar and bajra compared to rest of the year when they eat sugarcane.

To make the water-intensive process more environment-friendly, paper making is usually undertaken near cultivated land so that the waste water rich in dung fertiliser enriches the soil.

"We tried feeding the elephant with beetroot and turmeric to get naturally coloured paper but it did not work. We use only natural or vegetable dyes to dye the papers, making them ecologically safe to use," says Mehra.

She admits that though the concept may be new in India, but it has been a regular feature in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Apart from paper, fancy items like bags, frames, photo albums and cards are also made.
The response of the customers has been encouraging and very rarely there have been some expressing reservations.

"We have a good demand for our products in UK and Germany where people are more environment-conscious. We are planning to expand in India now," says Mehra.

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