Elephant dung might not be the most obvious source of bush medicine, but these large pieces of pachyderm excrement have some of the most effective uses for various ailments in all of Africa. Elephants eat vast amounts of food each day — 200-250kg — from many different types of plants, so it’s not surprising that people have found numerous uses for the stuff that comes out the other end.
After chatting to staff at Safari lodge, and doing a bit of research, we have found a few of the best uses of elephant dung out there.
Many of the staff at Safari lodge will attest to this unusual benefit of elephant dung. All you need to do is light up a bit of dried dung, and the smoke will keep mosquitoes away for the entire night. You might be concerned that the smell will be worse. But in fact it is quite a pleasant, musky smell, and is actually less offensive to your nostrils than the average spray-on repellent.
Nobody wants to be in a situation where they need to squeeze the last remaining liquid out of fresh elephant dung. But, if you are ever lost with no water in an area where elephants roam, this is a solution; albeit a rather undignified one. One might think the dung itself will make you ill, but there is very little bacteria in elephant dung, and the benefits generally outweigh the costs of ingestion.
Mild pain killer and a remedy for a bleeding nose
Elephant dung is made up a variety of plants and leaves, and holds most of the foliage that a medicine man would use in his treatments. Inhaling the smoke of the dung is a wonderful way to heal a headache, also dulling toothaches and limiting other pains. Bleeding noses and sinus problems are also known to subside from ele dung smoke.
Eles have very inefficient guts, and only digest around 45% of what they consume. Because their diet is so fibrous, their excrement can easily be made into paper products. Regular paper is made from wood fibre pulp anyway, but a similar pulp can be derived from the fibres in elephant dung. You might not believe it, but the average elephant excretes enough to produce 115 sheets of paper each day!
A coffee brew
As elephants are herbivores (unlike civets) and the fermentation process they use to break down the cellulose in their food brings out the sweet, fruity flavours in coffee bean and gives the coffee its chocolatey, cherry taste. All traces of bitterness vanish, and it has even been described as a sort of tea-coffee hybrid due to its softness on the palate. There are some elephants in Thailand’s Golden Triangle that are pooping out coffee beans worth US$500 per pound. They’re calling it Black Ivory Coffee, and are serving it exclusively in five star resorts across Asia and the Middle East.
Subsistence farmers have been using elephant dung as a type of fertiliser for generations. Because they digest so little of their food, elephant dung makes for excellent compost. This is. What is left is a pile of semi-digested leaves, grass and bark and fruit – very good for soil.
A filler for holes
The long, natural fibres in the dung act as a sieve, filtering sand and soil that would otherwise wash downhill. This makes it a wonderful substance to fill ditches and holes in the road caused by erosion.
Humans have had to survive in the wilderness for thousands of years, long before modern industry brought us all the comforts of home. So it’s little wonder that elephant dung has such a wide array of uses. And although you might not be reaching down for a handful any time soon, it’s still nice to know you have some backup should you find yourself lost in the African bush.
Remember, just because we call something a waste product doesn’t necessarily mean we should waste it.