Mara youth make herbal soap from elephant dung

Youth at Nashulai conservancy in Maasai Mara Game Reserve making soap from elephant dung. Photo Ben Leshau.

By Ben Leshau

The elephant, a member of the “Big Five” including lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo, attracts tourists to the parks earning the country much needed foreign exchange. But in a conservancy in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve some Maasai youth have discovered a rare ‘gold’ in elephant’s dung.

After being out of school due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of 20 youth from Nashulai community conservancy have ventured into herbal bar soap making industry using the rare component elephant poop.

Inspired by the traditional Maasai use of elephant dung to treat skin ailments, the youth realised their dream five months ago at the height of Covid-19 thanks to the high demand of their product.

“We came together as youth in high school and colleges from within Nashulai and brainstormed on viable economic activity we could do during the long holidays.We chose to make bar soap but we wanted something unique,” says  Vivian Sumoi, youth leader. She told County Press that they wanted to make the soap using the readily available material that was eco-friendly that’s why they resorted to the elephant dung.

“Our forefathers used to dilute elephant dung in water then use the content to wash the body of those infected with skin diseases and it worked.

We realized that the shrubs that elephants consumed had medicinal value. We did not want to destroy the shrubs that’s why we resorted to the dung,”adds Ms Sumoi.

Armed with sacks, the youth embarked on collection of the dry elephant dung which they then deliver at their cottage industry within the conservancy ready from manufacturing the unique bar soap.

Someone could be wondering how the new soap dubbed “Elephant DungSoap” is being made out of the dry dung.

Africa Geographic site indicates that a single mature jumbo eats approximately 150-200kgs of food daily and deposits over 100kg dung everyday.

According to Bernard Rono,a technical person in the new venture, the process of making the soap using the elephant dung starts with collection of dung in the field, drying and grinding the dry dung into fine powder.

“After crushing the dry dung then we mix it with olive oil with other chemicals then stir it up to make a dough-like component using a blender before pouring the mixture into designed cold boxes where it will solidify for about two weeks,” explained Mr Rono. After solidifying then the soap is cut into desired sizes and packaged in labelled packets ready for the market.

Ms. Sumoi exudes confidence that the business will not only create job opportunities for youth but will also generate income for wildlife conservation.

“We sell each piece of 50grams at Sh500.It might sound expensive but the demand is insatiable. We sell them to tourists and the locals and the response is amazing.They say that the soap leaves their skin nourished and spotless,” she adds.

According to the Nashulai Conservancy Manager, Mr Thomas Muema, the project has a bright future and has already applied for Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS) certification to pave way for commercialization of the project.

“We have already applied for certification with KeBS and we were told to construct a production unit with proper sanitation and storage facility which we have began,” he said. “Once we get certification next year we shall go fully commercial,” said Mr Muema. He says that they are targeting to sell their herbal soap to the local tourism lodges in nearby Maasai Mara Game Reserve as they seek to market the product nationally and internationally in the near future. The elephant dung has so many other uses such as manure, as mosquito repellent when lit, and can also be used to make eco-friendly paper due to rich fiber content.

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