Conservation & environment

Making elephant dung paper

27 November 2018

At Sand Rivers, we always try and do something different, coming up with clever ideas, involving the local community.

Last month we invited some kids to come and experience a safari with us. This month we decided to go and visit them at their place. We came up with the idea to get the kids from the local school to create and design our honeymoon cards for camp. And as we are privileged enough to have elephant droppings on our doorstep, what better way than making elephant dung paper, using recycled paper and elephant dung. First and foremost, I needed to know what I was doing, or at least pretend I knew. A couple of tutorials on YouTube soon fixed that. With all my bits and pieces in hand, excitedly Simba, our guide and I set off on the two hour journey, collecting bags of dung along the way...

We were greeted by big smiles and waves, and got the kids stuck in straight away.

First step: "get some gauze to clean and drain dung" - an old recycled guest's mosquito net worked perfectly.

Kids all gathered around to hold up the net. Next step: "clean dung at least 14 times, or until water runs clear" - The looks on their faces when I asked for 20 buckets of boiled water, made me foolishly realize that water was a precious commodity out here. Something I took for granted and hadn't even thought about. We made do with 4 buckets of cold water collected from the village communal well and cleaned/ rinsed the dung to get rid of all the bacteria.

We tore up the dung taking out all the sticks and bugs that were embedded inside and even though it didn't smell at all, some kids decided to leave the 'workshop' and have a go at football with a dry, round dung ball.

We encouraged the kids to go around the school and surrounds and pick up any litter that we could use for our paper as the next step was to "make pulp out of shredded recycled paper". Something I probably should have prepped back in camp with a blender or guillotine, as it took ages to tear the paper up into small bits.

The kids ripped up the paper but it was taking too long so we went ahead and threw it in water to turn to pulp. A bucket of a grey, soggy swamp. Final step: "Mix the pulp and dung together and flatten on mesh surface" - I'd had our camp carpenter, Cornelius make up two frames to use. We flattened the 'paper' down...

..added some red food colouring (I thought a red tinge would be a delicate final touch) and then stand on the paper with newspaper to "absorb the water".

As the kids picked it up to pose for the final photo the entire sheet flopped over into the mud on the ground! Wow - what a lesson I learnt, and although we said goodbye and I sheepishly jumped back in the vehicle and waved goodbye to a crowd of confused faces, having no idea what I was actually trying to achieve it's left me with a burning desire to get back to show them what I wanted to do. So - the project continues and we will keep trying.

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