UM tea research, certs help Asian elephants survive
A University of Montana “power couple,” writes The Missoulian, may have tapped into an unconventional safety net for Asian elephants across the subcontinent: developing certification standards for elephant-friendly tea production in conjunction with the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network. While on sabbatical in Bhutan in 2010, UM Wildlife Biology Professor Scott Mills became interested in elephant conservation, and was joined by his wife Lisa, manager for the UM Broader Impact Group’s Wildlife Conservation and Enterprise Program. The Mills duo was inspired to join the elephant conservation fight and came to understand that 70 percent of India’s Asian elephant habitat overlaps with tea agricultural sites, and that baby elephants were dying in irrigation ditches, individuals of all ages were dying from agrochemical poisoning, and human-related conflicts were leaving souls on both side dead, among other incidents. The couple enlisted the aid of locals to help collect data, a fairly unconventional approach: “… we gave out cameras and taught them how to tell the story of what was going on through photography and GPS units to track what was happening,” Lisa told The Missoulian. Using that data, the couple devised certification and production standards for elephant-friendly tea production, managing farms that produce the world’s second-most popular beverage (tea ranks only behind water). That certification standard graduated from a pilot stage earlier this month, and with two large tea estates and two small farms under review, elephant-friendly teas could soon become readily available to the entire world. For now, those certified teas are available only in Missoula and nearby areas.