The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network and the University of Montana established the Elephant Friendly™ standards of certification as an evidence-based program to help reduce the unnecessary deaths of endangered Asian elephants and reduce human-elephant conflicts that would help both people and elephants in tea growing regions where elephants continue to move across great swaths of land to reach fragments of forests, grasslands, and water sources. The journey of elephant herds in rapidly developing countries like India is fraught with trouble, as they face a number of growing challenges in order to maintain their age-old patterns of movement across the seasons and years. During the pilot phase of the Elephant Friendly™ Tea program over the past two years, input from wildlife biologists, veterinarians, tea producers, and natural resource agency professionals led to the development of an Elephant Friendly™ draft standards document that would help challenge the status quo in the tea industry and aim to engage one of the largest commodities in a battle for the very survival of a species. A large tea producer and a small tea grower (STG) were established as Certified Elephant Friendly™ Tea model sites once the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network’s Certification Committee verified they were in compliance with the new standards. Learning from the feedback of growers was a critical first step, but now it is time to open up the program to more tea growers who are willing to follow in the footsteps of the first Certified Elephant Friendly™ Tea farms.
The word is out with the help of media coverage by some of the top news sources, such as The Telegraph in India, World Tea News, and Mongabay, among others who featured the beginnings of the Elephant Friendly™ Tea initiative. By the beginning of 2019 there was a surge of interest in the program from growers and consumers alike, and the opportunity to support elephant conservation through Certified Elephant Friendly™ Tea sales caught the attention of more and more tea companies, zoo stores, non-profit organizations, and grocers who knew that these certified tea products would resonate with their customers. As more tea growers pass through the stringent certification review process, we expect to see more and more positive changes happening on the ground to prevent elephant deaths and injuries and reduce stressors and root causes of human-elephant conflicts.
Challenges abound, but with the growing consumer interest in Certified Elephant Friendly™ teas, there is now the economic incentive for growers to tap expanded global market opportunities to sell their Certified Elephant Friendly™ products. While growers meet and maintain compliance with the standards, the program team works tirelessly to ensure that the story is told and the program continues to scale for conservation impact that could very well be the change that helps sustain Asian elephants in the wild in one of their last remaining strongholds, the tea regions of India.
Tea producers in elephant zones who are interested in learning more about the Elephant Friendly™ certification process can email to: firstname.lastname@example.org