The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) and the University of Montana jointly announce a first-of-its kind certification program which will empower consumers to play an active role in conservation, and provide tea-growing companies with a financial incentive to make positive changes for elephants within tea plantations. The Balipara Foundation of India has spearheaded support for this initiative by extending an invitation to Indian tea companies to join the effort to implement specific changes that top elephant experts agree will have positive impacts on Asian elephant conservation.
Injury, electrocution, poison and other conflicts with humans, combined with widespread habitat loss and degradation, have left this species under great pressure to survive in the wild long-term. Asian elephant populations are declining faster than their better-known African elephant cousins. In a number of countries Asian elephants are extinct or nearly extinct in the wild, although the media and general public remain largely unaware that this species may someday face widespread extinction if the trend is not reversed with strategic and well-timed conservation interventions.
Certified Elephant Friendly™ Tea has been developed as a result of years of research and community-based conservation effort in Assam, the primary tea growing region in India, focusing on identifying the key threats to elephants and strategies to address them. As a partner in this new initiative, University of Montana’s Lisa Mills says, “It is time to recognize that the very things that we buy across the globe are often in direct odds with the conservation of wildlife. If the products we purchase were an opportunity to reverse this trend, for elephants to last a bit longer and roam a bit more freely on this earth, would we pay the price? Can we have our tea and drink it too?” With rapid growth in the tea market in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016, and consumers becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about how their spending impacts the environment, retailers and U.S. based tea companies have expressed early interest in marketing products certified under this program. There is also interest in certification of other products as Elephant FriendlyTM, such as coffee grown in elephant movement areas in south India.
“Elephant populations are in trouble wherever they exist around the world,” said WFEN Director Julie Stein. “Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are having devastating effects on populations, with habitat conversion and human-elephant conflict both creating additional compounding mortality. Elephants simply cannot reproduce fast enough to survive this crisis. These are complex issues to solve and global citizens are often left feeling helpless as they watch species blink out before their eyes and in their own lifetimes, but now consumers can be empowered to do something tangible to reward ethical companies that are going the extra mile to coexist with elephants so that their children will not live in a world without elephants.”
The Elephant Friendly™ Tea Certification Program was announced at the Balipara Foundation’s Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics™ Forum in November 2016 in Guwahati, India, which was held in conjunction with the IUCN Asian Elephant Specialist Group meeting. This important gathering of the some of the world’s top Asian Elephant experts was also an opportunity to bring major tea industry representatives together to plan action steps in support of the
long-term survival of Asian elephants. Discussions around the concept of Elephant Friendly Tea™ included major tea companies such as Amalgamated Tea (APPL), the second largest tea company in India, the India Tea Association, other tea companies and representatives from leading conservation organizations from across the globe.
The tea-growing estates of India, established in the 1800’s, replaced former elephant habitat with plantations. Worker homes, roads, irrigation ditches, fencing and other human-driven activity expanded with the growth of the industry and continues to this day. These non-Elephant Friendly barriers pose a real threat to ancient migration patterns and thus the survival of elephant herds that must access reliable sources of water and food, as well as safe places to raise their young. Because natural cycles of native forest growth depend on seed dispersal by elephants as they move and deposit undigested tree seeds to forest openings, elephants are often referred to as the “Farmers of the Forest.” Elephant Friendly Tea™ will give tea drinkers around the world an important role in helping to ensure these iconic and charismatic animals have a future in the wild.
This post originally appeared on the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network’s website.