MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Broader Impacts Group has partnered with the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network to launch the world’s first tea certification program designed to protect the endangered Asian elephant.
UM showcased the project during the World Tea Expo held this month in Las Vegas. The new farm-to-cup program engages tea growers, sellers and consumers to help conserve Elephas maximus.
Over the past 75 years, the Asian elephant population has declined more than 50 percent and only 40,000 to 50,000 remain, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Much of the decline correlates with human-elephant conflict and the replacement of elephant habitat by tea plantations. Although the plantations can serve as nurseries for females to give birth and rest until their newborns are strong enough to move with the herd, agricultural practices such as deep and narrow drainage ditches, improperly installed electric fencing and the chemicals used in conventional tea production can harm elephants.
“We are encouraged by the interest we are seeing from tea growers and buyers who want to join the Certified Elephant Friendly Tea partnership,” said Lisa Mills, UM liaison for the project. “With a percentage of every sale going back to support elephant conservation in the communities where the tea is grown, tea drinkers can directly support human-elephant co-existence.”
Certified tea producers commit to reducing the negative impacts to elephant populations, and the first plantation became certified in Assam, India, this spring. Lake Missoula Tea Company and Café Dolce in Missoula are the first businesses to carry Certified Elephant Friendly Tea.
Certified Elephant Friendly Tea also will link conservation action to a science-based evaluation of impacts on elephant populations.
“We are working with scientists at UM and in India to determine how implementation of elephant-friendly practices will actually help reverse the declining trajectory of Asian elephant populations,” Mills said.
UM’s Broader Impacts Group is part of the Office of Research and Creative Scholarship, dedicated to helping researchers create meaningful and sustainable impacts within communities. In addition to partnership with WFEN on the project, support also is provided by the Blackstone LaunchPad, the School of Business Administration and the Wildlife Biology Program at UM.