Cooking with Elephant Dung

Have you ever wondered what happens to the mountains of elephant dung that build up every day at DSWT’s elephant stockades? Every night the orphans are brought into enclosures and by each morning several wheelbarrow loads full of dung have accumulated. In the Voi Stockades alone there is enough dung every morning to fill 12 wheelbarrows. Two men are allocated the responsibility of collecting and disposing of it.

A large percentage of the dung is used to fill in gullies on the roads that are created by erosion – a big problem in the sandy, sparsely-covered environment of Tsavo. The long, natural fibres in the dung act as a sieve, filtering huge amounts of sand and soil that would otherwise have washed downhill. Dung that is not used on the roads is fed into a bio-digester to provide cooking gas for the keepers’ kitchen.

Biodigester at Voi Stockades. Photograph by Zach Montes.

Biodigester at Voi Stockades. Photograph by Zach Montes.

The digester mimics a massive stomach. It is fed organic waste on one side and excretes bio-slurry on the other. Since an elephant’s digestive system is relatively inefficient, the dung retains a very high calorific value. As it continues to break down in the digester it releases a combination of gases including methane, which is bled off the top of the digester and run through a plastic hosepipe to the kitchen.

Biogas stove. Photograph by Zach Montes.

Biogas stove. Photograph by Zach Montes.

In the kitchen it dispenses from a normal cooking stove. The gas is extremely safe. It dissipates rapidly instead of settling and building up like traditional cooking gas does. Even when left on, it poses no real threat, and it works.

Biogas Stove. Photograph by Zach Montes.

Biogas Stove. Photograph by Zach Montes.

A small digester can provide enough gas for a family to cook for 3 hours every day using just the manure from one cow. The elephants produce enough manure to feed a commercial scale digester and meet the needs of the entire permanent staff based at the Voi Stockades. For the time being, however, a smaller digester is being used that is ideal for preparing the keepers’ tea and for cooking less time-intensive foods such as rice.

Wood fuel is still a primary source of fuel across much of Kenya. Photograph by Zach Montes.

Wood fuel is still a primary source of fuel across much of Kenya. Photograph by Zach Montes.

As an alternative to wood fuel, biogas is fantastic. It is much faster and easier to start than a fire and doesn’t produce any harmful smoke. In addition to the gas, bio slurry is bled off the backend of the digester and can be used as a high quality fertiliser. Since the gases released from the digester are comprised of only hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, the bio slurry retains all of the valuable nutrients found in organic compost, and since these nutrients have already been broken down by the multitude of bacteria in the digester, they can be readily absorbed by plants.

Bio slurry collection. The mini-greenhouse used to maintain a conducive temperature in the digester having suffered some damage from a troop of curious baboons. Photograph by Zach Montes.

Bio slurry collection. The mini-greenhouse used to maintain a conducive temperature in the digester having suffered some damage from a troop of curious baboons. Photograph by Zach Montes.

8 Comments

  1. What a great way to reduce, reuse, and recycle! I love how this benefits both the humans and elephants on multiple levels.

  2. Formidable comportement écologique. Un modèle pour l’humanité et de grande responsabilité. Vous êtes géniaux!

  3. That is great! I wish I could do the same with the manure of our horses… I’ve tried to make some stove bricks with it but it does not burn well enough in our stove as it leaves too much ashes. Making our own gas would be nice… Now I just compost it and reuse for the garden and the field again.

    • hi AnneMarie
      its very much possible to generate biogas from the waste of your horses. its simple. we have build more than 300 hundred small scale biogas plants (in rural Kenya) digesting cow dung, producing gas for domestic cooking….
      once the dung is fermented its a ready to use organic fertilizer. so nothing is wasted.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgoSlpTtNW8

  4. Wonderful ways to reduce, reuse, recycle. In India, they also make paper out of it.

  5. I am beaming!!! Yes there are solutions, we just have to commit to finding them; and more importantly doing them.

  6. This was fascinating…knowing ellie poop was very fibrous..I assumed this would be about burning the dried dung. Producing gas from it is just fascinating, and then you still have the compost if you have a way to use it. With the huge problems of charcoal harvesting all threw so many parts of Africa, this could be an enormous benefit. How to get the process out to the masses?? If 1 cow can produce enough to allow a small family to cook….many families would not be fetching wood or buying charcoal! And safer…

  7. That’s it. I want some elephant dung to cook in my kitchen.

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