Two Weeks in Sri Lanka: A First-hand Look at Conservation and Fair Trade

Two Weeks in Sri Lanka: A First-hand Look at Conservation and Fair Trade

July, 2016“They look different in the wild, don’t they? More peaceful and happier.” I said quietly to my sister, Jenny, who joined me on the 24 hour journey from JFK. From our idling Jeep we watched, just a few yards away, a family of three—mother, teen, and baby hiding behind overgrown schrubs and grass.

How exhilarating—to see wild elephants for the first time. En route to our second wild elephant encounter, Jenny yelled across the Jeep, over its roaring engine and through the hot wind of the open meadow, “this is one of my top five life experiences.”

“For me, also,” I replied.

Carl Avidano and Jenny Foreman in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, there is an escalating problem known as the Human-Elephant Conflict. Asian elephants are running out of space. These noble creatures are killed, as many as 100-150 annually according to the Born Free Foundation, because they interfere with agriculture and threaten crops. Concurrently, people are being killed, approximately 50 annually, by elephants becoming more aggressive as a result of their shrinking habitat.

Sadly, for the somber fate of elephants in Sri Lanka, there is no easy solution.

Still our client, Mr. Ellie Pooh, is making a difference. In the Kegalle district, we visited the factory where paper is handmade from elephant dung and recycled post-consumer paper. No trees or toxic chemicals are used in this unique method of papermaking. We interviewed and photographed workers whose lives are positively impacted by the Fair Trade practices of the factory—the primary purpose of our trip—to promote Mr. Ellie Pooh products here in America.

Karl Wald, CEO of Mr. Ellie Pooh, believes that elephant conservation begins with education. Factory workers are taught to live among (and respect) elephants in Human-Elephant Conflict areas. By providing sustainable papermaking and artisan jobs, and using elephant dung to make paper, villagers begin to view elephants as an economic asset, rather than a liability.

Mr. Ellie Pooh papermakers in Sri Lanka

Further, Americans learn about and contribute to elephant (and tree) conservation by purchasing paper and exotic gifts from Mr. Ellie Pooh. Still further, every purchase increases demand for the paper, creating more opportunity for Sri Lankan workers.

We are grateful to Mr. Ellie Pooh for all we have learned about conservation and fair trade—in our two years working together—and that our work is helping them make a difference on the other side of the planet.

View our Mr. Ellie Pooh case study.