4 Elephants + 1 Day =  500 Sheets of Paper

4 Elephants + 1 Day = 500 Sheets of Paper


A popular variety of handmade commercial paper has messy beginnings.

John Matano’s Nampath Paper is one of 17 Kenyan companies that processes elephant dung to make high-quality paper. Matano’s paper is, according to the BBC, as good as paper made from traditional sources.

Elephants digest only about 45 percent of their highly fibrous herbivorous diet. Undigested fiber passes straight through them, creating dung that can be easily processed into paper. Or as Matano explained, “An average elephant eats 250 kilograms of food each day. Out of that amount, about 50 kilograms of dung is produced, and 125 sheets of A4 paper can be produced from each 50 kilograms.”

This free, renewable product has seen the birth of a new industry in East Africa. Kafe Mwarimo, manager at the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, said the elephant dung paper industry has so far helped more than 500 local people pull themselves out of poverty.

Matano said their way of making paper saves nearby forests from being destroyed. “The business is very reliable and has a promising future. It is important for poaching and illegal logging to go down to 0 percent.”

The Kenya Wildlife Service, a government agency, has been full of praise for the efforts of the new paper industry. Spokesman Paul Gathitu said the industry has helped protect the country’s remaining 7,000 elephants and helped reduce illegal logging.

“It is a good effort; it helps humans coexist with elephants. Lots of the paper products from elephant dung have been provided to us here.”

Creation begins with the savannah grass that elephants feed on. It is that masticated fiber pulp that is the key ingredient of Nampath’s paper. Matano explained the process: “After washing, clean fibers remain. Then the fiber is boiled for four hours in a vat to thoroughly ensure it is clean. Then after that, much of the process is similar to that of making regular paper.”

Jane Muihia, of paper manufacturer Transpaper Kenya, said the paper does not actually stink. “It goes through all the regular stages of manufacture. And in price it is almost the same.”