While most people think of poaching as the most significant danger to the world’s elephant population, there is another threat from a seemingly unlikely source: tea. In India, tea farms have sprouted up along much of the Asian elephant’s habitat, and the farms’ deep drainage ditches, harmful pesticides and electric fences now mark the endangered elephants’ natural migration routes between India and Bhutan.
Although elephants do not eat tea leaves, they often pass through the fields during their long migrations, encountering hostile humans along the way. During the last 75 years, the Asian elephant population in India has declined by 50%, and in 2018 an estimated 64 people died as a result of human-elephant conflict.
In the Indian state of Assam, tea farmer Tenzing Bodosa has found his own way of creating a more symbiotic human-elephant relationship. Bodosa’s three-hectare elephant-friendly tea garden forgoes the dangerous drainage ditches and electric fences used by other growers in the area, allowing migrating elephants to move through the farm without the threat of injury. Workers on Bodosa’s farm let passing elephants roam in peace, reducing the elephant-related injuries and deaths that can occur when humans attempt to chase the animals away. Bodosa’s farm also does not use chemical pesticides or fertilisers that can be poisonous to elephants and the vegetation they eat.
The most unusual part of Bodosa’s farm, though, is its buffer zone, where the tea fields end and the jungle begins. While most local growers cut down the plants elephants eat that grow around their farms, Bodosa adds to the vegetation, planting bamboo, star fruit and other plants elephants love. Bodosa’s innovation has not gone unnoticed – he has trained about 30,000 farmers on his tea-farming practices, and his garden has been certified by the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network as the world’s only elephant-friendly tea farm.
Every year, about 100 tourists from all over the world visit Bodosa’s farm, some staying with Bodosa for several months at a time. Guests are invited to volunteer in the gardens, taste the three varieties of organic tea grown there, and of course, meet the farm’s elephant visitors.
(Video by Kalpana Pradhan, text by Emily Cavanagh)
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