As every mother knows, we would lift mountains to save our children. On this Mother’s Day, I watch a video of an elephant in India rescuing her calf from a steep-sided, deathly ditch. She ignores the excited chatter of nearby people. All that matters is the life of her newborn baby. Watch her use her magnificent foot to dig into the ditch to lessen the verticality of the trap. Within her great body, flapping ears, and prehensile trunk, every nerve is attuned and focused. Surely, this must be the greatest strength of all–love.
Steep-sided ditches on India tea plantations are death traps for baby elephants. Not all stories end well, no matter how heroic a mother’s focused strength and love. Enter certified elephant friendly tea ™ , a partnership of University of Montana, Wildlife Friendly Enterprises, and tea farmers in India, and a story of hope for Mother’s Day.
Asian wild elephants are critically endangered, with fewer than 50,000 in the wild. Their stronghold lies in Assam, India, and into Bhutan in the foothills of the Himalayas. For thousands of years, elephant herds moved freely from mountains to valleys to rivers, finding shelter and plentiful food, yet as human populations swell and tea plantations in India replace native forests, their pathways have become blocked, their habitat dwindles, and their conflicts with people increases.
Tea plantations can be their last best hope–or death traps. Ditches built to drain floodwaters are so narrow that babies fall in and cannot escape. Electric fences surrounding plantations electrocute elephants. Pesticides and fertilizers poison them. As their last best hope, tea farms can welcome elephants in, grow tea without pesticides and fertilizers, retain native vegetation, and either remove ditches (no longer a best practice) or widen them so babies can climb out.
When I wrote a story about Lisa Mills –a mother herself–and her passionate efforts to restore wild elephants with this win-win conservation project of 2017, I caught her enthusiasm like a thrilling wind that made me feel like taking flight with her to India. I saw her deep, abiding love for elephants and for the people she grew to know on sabbatical with her husband Scott Mills in Bhutan, by the India border. At this moment, Lisa is heading back to India to meet with more farmers ready to certify their farms.
So I joined forces! I’m representing certified elephant friendly tea ™ here in Oregon and am proud to report that two tea companies in Bend —Inspired Leaf and Metolius Artisan Tea — are now carrying the certified Assam black tea that I can vouch is naturally sweet, the color of amber, and somehow in every sip I can feel that loving touch of Tenzing Bodosa, the first elephant-friendly tea farmer whose sustainable practices are a shining light for others. Watch him in a video on the Elephant Friendly Instagram page and you’ll want to head his way to meet him, too.
As a consumer, you can help endangered wild Asian elephants in the most direct way possible with your purchase power. Buy the certified elephant friendly tea ™ and the farmers get a premium price that supports their conservation efforts. The habitat they protect and help restore is home for elephants and a breathtaking diversity of forest birds also desperately in need of habitat, from hornbills to tropical kingfishers. The project helps workers and families stay safe from elephants that are not stressed and hungry, and provides income for women who are growing seedlings for reforestation, too.
On the flip side, buy just any black tea from India and that cup in your hand might represent the death of baby elephants, as mothers desperately tried to rescue them and failed. The potential of this program is huge and yet our time is short to save wild elephants that could vanish from the world forever–within a couple decades.
Will you join me on mother’s day in ordering elephant-friendly tea? In Oregon, order from Inspired Leaf Tea Company and Metolius Artisan Tea. Other places so far include Twin Trunks and Lake Missoula Tea Company.
Follow Elephant Friendly Tea on Instagram! (elephantfriendlytea) and please support Wildlife Friendly Enterprises and check out www.elephantfriendlytea.com. Feel free to contact me, too, if you want to join the herd and order elephant friendly tea!