The Evolution Underground – Part 1: Book Review

Not all scholars write with the playfulness or the open curiosity found in books written by Dr. Anthony Martin, professor at Emory University.

In his second work with Pegasus Books, “The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath Our Feet,” he opens with an anecdote about an outdoor class on an island off of the Georgia coast.  If you have any question about whether this book is for you, read those first several pages.

He, his colleague, Michael Page, and several students were mapping alligator dens.  While they’d witnessed many active dens from a safe distance, in this instance, they were exploring those long abandoned by their former occupants.  They were, he explained to the reader, in the middle of the forest where a now-nonexistent canal once ran.  Without water, there would, of course, be no alligators.

Only he was wrong.  And this was pointed out when a student noticed teeth within the den.

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Picture of alligators by Michael Leggero, courtesy of Getty Images

You will need to read the book to find out what happens, but this first chapter perfectly encapsulates how Dr. Martin writes. If you want to learn about any aspect of our world from a scientific and curious lens, here is an author you might want as your guide.  He is no stranger to presenting enormous volumes of information in an easily digestible way, nor is he one to make it cumbersome. His wit and sense of adventure make learning fun.  Moreover, there is no arrogance in his books.  The words “so far,” “unknown,” and “as yet” are sprinkled throughout the text.  He is not afraid to admit when science (or, indeed, when he himself!) has been mistaken, when theories are disproven, educational assumptions found incorrect. He writes with the understanding that our scientific knowledge–like life itself–is still evolving. And like so much of his writing, it only serves to prompt the reader into thoughtful reverie: where might science take us in the future? What will be revealed years, decades, centuries from now, and how will this impact the world?  The creative and wondrous question “What if?” floats like a butterfly through its chapters.

Dr. Martin describes how these seemingly abandoned alligator dens may have indeed been dug when water was present, but that even despite drought, parts of their internal structures may connect with the groundwater table.  Water within the den may have also attracted thirsty birds and animals on the island.  He and his students later found the ravaged corpses and bones from such unsuspecting creatures both in and outside of other forest dens.

“All of this trace evidence told us the alligators could switch from aquatic to terrestrial predation if necessary, like a shark deciding it was going to turn into a lion.  This surprising behavioral transformation and adaptability in alligators was made possible through their dens, which during times of environmental change became all-purpose hunting lodges.” – page 7, “The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath Our Feet,” by Dr. Anthony J. Martin, Pegasus Books

And thus begins his exploration of the animals—including humans!—worms, insects and birds that have created sanctuaries below ground.  Burrows, he posits, have made survival possible throughout Earth’s history, and these underground homes have made and continue to make enormous impact on life above ground.

“The bigger picture behind these everyday observations of many holes in the ground, however, is that the long history of these burrowing invertebrates completely altered global environments, from the deepest sea to the highest mountains, and even affected the atmosphere and climate.  In short, the entire surface of our planet is built upon one big complex and constantly evolving burrow system, controlling the nature of our existence.” – page 14, “The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath Our Feet,” by Dr. Anthony J. Martin, Pegasus Books

Dr. Martin encourages us to take a closer look at a generally overlooked part of our world. That closer look involves fascinating details about creatures and places one may not have realized existed.  Burrowing owls–with their photogenic and often amusing images–may be familiar, but perhaps not so much the charming fairy penguins of Tasmania, or the alarming assassin flies associated with gopher tortoise burrows, who both kill and start digesting their hapless victims with an injection of neurotoxins and enzymes.

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Image of burrowing fairy penguins, courtesy of Getty Images
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Slideshow of burrowing owls, courtesy of Getty Images


Perhaps the most powerful section of the book—one that really drives home his point about survival underground—involves the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State thirty-seven years ago.

Whether you’ve only read about it or whether you’ve actually visited, Mount St. Helens is a stark reminder of how devastating Nature can be.  After a couple of months of earthquakes, the volcano erupted in the morning of May 18th, 1980. Not only did it obliterate everything in its path, the eruption and its aftermath killed 57 people and all of the wildlife within about 150 square miles.

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Image of Mount St. Helens before the eruption of 1980, photo by Jeff Goulden, courtesy of Getty Images

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Image of Mount St. Helens today, courtesy of Getty Images

Here, Dr. Martin uses creative nonfiction (or ‘narrative nonfiction’) to help illustrate how, despite this traumatic event, the entire area made a comeback.  Loowit, a sweet little fictional pocket gopher, takes the reader through some of the natural events that transformed devastation into renewal and rebirth.

He describes her home: a branching set of underground tunnels and rooms that can reach up to 500 feet long, complete with food storage areas, latrines, and other chambers. Although undeterred by snow, she was, at the time of the eruption, comfortably ensconced in her burrow.  This saved her.  He takes us through how she emerges after the eruption, her confusion, her tentative steps back into a new world above ground, how she and other survivors may have eventually formed communities.

In sum, in a world that now knew mostly death and destruction, these pocket gophers not only survived, but kept surviving, and in so doing, helped bring life back to an area that did not outwardly appear to contain much.

…these little ecosystem engineers began terraforming the previously desolate landscape, first by helping plants take root and grow. Each individual pocket gopher was capable of overturning more than a ton of soil each year…” – page 262, “The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath Our Feet,” by Dr. Anthony J. Martin, Pegasus Books
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Image of a pocket gopher, courtesy of Getty Images

Of the 55 mammal species in the area of Mount St. Helens in May 1980, only 14 survived the volcanic eruption and its collateral damage. Surface-dwelling elk, deer, black bears…and all other large- to medium-size mammals perished. On the other hand, nearly all the small mammals that lived were burrowing rodents…One of the few non-rodent survivors was the tiny Trowbridge’s shrew (Sorex trowbridgii), which (not coincidentally) is also a burrower.  Pocket gophers are active year round, but many other small-mammal species were both underground and still hibernating when the eruption took place.  The fortuitous timing of this disaster at the transition between winter and spring thus greatly enhanced the chances of these minutest of mammals to emerge and thrive.  Of the rodents that had already come out of hibernation, nocturnal species were doubly lucky to have already retired for the day in their burrows when the blast occurred.  Had the volcano erupted at night, many more would have died.” – page 264, “The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath Our Feet,” by Dr. Anthony J. Martin, Pegasus Books

For the pocket gopher populations that survived the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, their collective actions were the key to turning a desolate, monochromatic landscape back into a vibrant and verdant one.  From a geological perspective, their effects were astoundingly quick, with partial ecological restoration apparent within just five years of the eruption. Consequently, pocket gophers and other burrowing animals that lived beyond May 18, 1980, send a powerful message about the benefits of burrows for surviving such an ecologically traumatic events, as well as for their role in restoring an ecosystem after it is nearly destroyed.” – pages 266-267, “The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath Our Feet,” by Dr. Anthony J. Martin, Pegasus Books


I want more books like “The Evolution Underground” and “Dinosaurs Without Bones.”  Books that tickle my intellect and my sense of humor.  Books that pull me in with their interesting anecdotes, their engaging playfulness, their sensitivity to all genders (ie: not referring to all humans as “mankind” or simply “man”), and their ability to make me think outside the pages.

When I read a book and am left not only with the satisfaction that comes from something that I’ve enjoyed but also an eagerness for more, I know I’ve found a talented author.

Dr. Anthony Martin is, indeed, a talented author.



A sincere and enthusiastic THANK YOU to Dr. Anthony Martin for his willingness to connect by phone and for his generous responses to my questions!  It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to speak with him, and—like his writing—he made it fun!  I eagerly (if impatiently) await any possible future work.  

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author of this blog loved Dr. Martin’s previous book with Pegasus, “Dinosaurs Without Bones,” and thus, jumped at the chance to review his latest work (fully predisposed to embrace it) by requesting a review copy from the publisher.  I am very grateful to Pegasus Books for the opportunity to do so. I am specifically grateful to Deputy Publisher, Jessica Case, with whom it was wonderful to work!

Dinosaurs Without Bones

The Elephant Listening Project – Communication and Conservation

“One thing that surprised me was how much noise they made when they rubbed their bodies on tree-trunks (which they do a lot) and flapped their ears.”

Liz Rowland, data analyst for the Elephant Listening Project, recalled one of her few field trips in Gabon.  In this instance, she and Peter Wrege—director of the ELP (Elephant Listening Project)—were observing elephants at night with the help of infrared floodlights and night-vision binoculars.

“It was also obvious how great their sense of smell was. If the wind was going from us to them, they’d often all put up their trunks in the air (called periscoping) to smell us. Quite amusing.”

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[Image of elephants in Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic) drinking at the mineral pits taken by Andrea Turkelo, courtesy of the Elephant Listening Project]

Gabon is one of the African countries in which the ELP works and one of the limited places left in the world home to wild herds of elephants.

“The only staff employed in ELP are me and Peter,” Liz continued, “and we’re here in Ithaca nearly all the time, so our fieldwork is quite limited. Mostly, it involves just Peter Wrege going out to an area and trekking through the forest to put up recording units. He’s been going out to one area or another a few times per year.”

Andrea Turkalo, a scientist who has studied elephants for over 20 years, is another member of the team, even if she is not technically employed by the ELP.

What has become standard practice—regularly recording and analyzing elephant sounds–was an original idea in the 1980’s.  The ELP’s founder, Katy Payne, had spent fifteen years listening to whales with her then-husband, Roger Payne. Her curiosity as an acoustics biologist veered toward elephants in 1984. So she visited the Washington Park Zoo in Portland, Oregon, to listen to the Asian elephants residing there.

In her book Silent Thunder, Katy Payne describes her introduction to those zoo elephants, to the social hierarchy evident in that brief visit, and, eventually, of six trunks extending through the bars, “gently surrounding [her] with whiffing” [page 17], as they explored her scent.  It was that visit, in which she felt rather than heard a throbbing in the air, that prompted her to question whether elephants made sounds that humans might not be able to detect.

She acknowledges that she was not necessarily the first to make this observation.  She points to M. Krishan, who made such a suggestion in 1972, and to Judith Berg of the San Diego Zoo. (page 44)  Elephant scientists such as Cynthia Moss and Joyce Poole in Kenya as well as Iain Douglas-Hamilton in Tanzania had wondered how elephants could appear to communicate without any apparent sound over long distances. (page 43)

Katy Payne was, it seems, the first to act upon it and undertake ongoing studies to research it further.  Her tape recordings of elephants at the zoo revealed communication through infrasound.

Her research in the 80’s and 90’s took her to a number of African countries: Amboseli Park in Kenya, Etosha National Park in Namibia, and the Sengwa Wildlife Research Area in Zimbabwe.

Her teams’ recordings were brought back to Cornell University, situated in the rolling hills of Ithaca, NY.  And there, they were further analyzed. The Elephant Listening Project found its home in–of all places–the Ornithology program within that institution.

“[I]ndeed, people are usually surprised that we’re based at the Lab of Ornithology!” Liz Rowland explained. “The reason is to do with acoustics. I think there was already a sound library here for bird song when Katy established ELP. There was also another link I think. Chris Clark was already here at the Lab as head (and founder) of the Bioacoustics Research Program, working on whale sounds. Chris had previously worked as an assistant to Katy when she was working on whales. So I think that helped get Katy started here.”

Over the years, the areas in which the ELP works have changed slightly.

“Peter works with people based in Africa, often associated with the Wildlife Conservation Society, who suggest or request sites,” Liz wrote.

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[Image taken by Peter Wrege, courtesy of the Elephant Listening Project]

“There’s usually a specific need for information about the elephant and/or poaching activity. For example, Parks’ or Wildlife Conservation Society staff might be especially concerned about poaching in an area, or local people might be thinking of setting up an ecotourism project and would like to know when/where best to set up a platform [for wildlife viewing.]”

“[It’s] really only Peter that goes out to the field, although I did go with him once when we did a project that did need field observations. This was to confirm earlier studies by ELP where we found that the number of elephant calls recorded was a good indicator of the number of elephants observed at a forest clearing. So, we had to both make acoustic recordings and visual observations at a clearing.”

Communication between humans over such geographic distance offers its own obstacles.

“Unless he’s in one of the towns en route to the field, [Peter] doesn’t have any contact [with other ELP sites] except by expensive satellite phone.  Andrea Turkalo is usually based in Dzanga National Park, [Namibia], where she has limited email access and a satellite phone.”

When asked about the greatest challenge to the ELP, however, Liz responded, “Funding! We’re always on the edge of having no money at all! There are only 2 of us and although we both work full time, we don’t have funding to cover that in salary. We really need to be able to pay skilled computer programmers to help us progress, and although there are several people here in the Bioacoustics Research Program (of which we are a part), ELP has to be able to pay for their time if we want their help. Funding from grants has been increasingly difficult to obtain.”

The feeling that she’s “doing something to help conserve an extremely endangered species” is what Liz notes as the most rewarding aspect of her job at ELP.

“My interests have always been with animal behavior and conservation.”  She noted that living in South Africa for several years prompted her love of Africa in general. “Communication and social behavior of mammals, especially African mammals, has always held a special lure for me.”

“I used to work in a different department at Cornell (Natural Resources),” she continued, “which was quite interesting work, but was geared towards figuring out how to ‘manage’ wildlife (finding effective repellents, etc.), which was the wrong angle for me!”

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[Image of elephants in Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic) drinking at the mineral pits taken by Andrea Turkelo, courtesy of the Elephant Listening Project]

“Katy Payne used to give talks on campus every now and then about her work with the elephants so naturally I went along to them and was hooked! I kept asking if she had positions free but of course ELP had no spare funding. Eventually my contract with Natural Resources expired and Katy took me on as a volunteer. Then ELP got a little bit of money so they actually employed me, and so it’s been (on and off!) since then. Although I rarely get to actually see elephants, or even video of them, my motivation is that I’m helping to provide information that is needed to conserve them.”

Learning about elephants—let alone for a piece like this; one can only imagine what it is like in the field—is fraught with emotional highs and lows.

There are the beautiful anecdotes that demonstrate how highly intelligent and social these animals are.  One recognizes traits within elephant families that human families share: the adult tenderness with the youth in the group; baby elephants playing with one another; mischief created by the youth that is tolerated (or not!) by the adults; and the seemingly obvious grief for and memory of an elephant that has died, as the other elephants will touch and smell the bones of that elephant for years afterwards.

In one particularly amusing moment in Silent Thunder, Katy Payne describes how several juvenile male elephants—enormous creatures with an enormous combined weight—are stopped by the sight of a butterfly and then flee. (page 73)

One recognizes personalities within elephants.  One can see—from observers such as those at the ELP, who record interactions and describe them for those of us unable to witness them—how connected the elephants within each family or bond group truly are.

But then one cannot ignore the overwhelming information about elephant destruction: their numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate.

Most of their deaths are directly attributed to the ivory trade, an illegal market that kills thousands of these animals each year.  The reasons behind it and the people involved—from those with great economic need to those who are organized, well-funded and feeding an international demand—make this human/animal conflict messy, complicated and constant.

These numbers were painful almost two decades ago when Katy Payne wrote about them in Silent Thunder.  The numbers have only increased since then.

“[F]orest elephants are being killed at the rate of about 10,000 per year,” wrote Liz Rowland. “There may be only 100,000 forest elephants left.”

National Geographic included devastating statistics of elephant deaths throughout the world in  Bryan Christy’s 2012 article about the ivory trade. Within Central Africa, 90% percent of elephant deaths were attributed to ivory poaching; within Eastern Africa, those same figures were at 59%; in Western Africa, 84%; and in Southern Africa, 51%.  In that same article, it was estimated that African elephants alone numbered at 1.3 million in 1979.  In 2007, their numbers had fallen to a mere 472,000 – 690,000. (You can see that graphic and those figures here.) Given the annual death rate to the ivory market, today’s numbers can only be smaller.

Liz Rowland emphasizes this when she wrote, “The current threat to elephants is the ivory trade – mainly from the Chinese market. Everyone should do all they can to educate people about this whenever they have the opportunity (especially to those people who might consider buying ivory!)”

Also important, she noted, “Andrea and Peter are in the process of analyzing the data from [Andrea’s] 22-year long observational study at Dzanga National Park, and it shows that the reproductive rate is much slower than that of their savannah cousins, making them even more vulnerable to extinction.”

The length of time these researchers and their colleagues have spent in the field observing elephants is important. They have compiled a wealth of data that only continues to grow.

Even initially, Katy Payne mentions the creation of an elephant dictionary based upon their research.  Peter Wrege, in a relatively recent 60 Minute video, explains that the dictionary is still in its infancy.  It is one thing to learn another human language; the complexity of learning and accurately interpreting the language of another species altogether seems staggering.  It would be a remarkable achievement.

The members of ELP are not yet able to identify specific elephants by sound.

Wrote Liz, “At the moment, we’re too concerned with just getting the basic information about where elephants are, patterns of activity, etc., because this is essential for conservation planning, and we’re too short-staffed to do anything but the essentials.

“Andrea’s work is a separate project in a sense. There is one elephant there that has a unique call, but other than him, even Andrea isn’t able to ID the elephants by their calls.

“However, we think it’s very likely that the elephants recognize each other from their calls, and there has been some research on the Savannah elephant that shows that they are able to distinguish familiar from non-familiar individuals. The rumbles are very varied, so it makes sense that they can recognize calls. It would take a lot of work (time synchronized multi-channel audio recordings so that we could figure out where the elephant was when it called, with time synchronized video recordings) to figure this out.”

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[A forest elephant named Thomas, taken by Peter Wrege, courtesy of the Elephant Listening Project]

As Katy Payne mused in Silent Thunder, “The more closely you watch elephants, the more complexity you see in their communities.” (page 63)


An absolutely enormous thank you to Liz Rowland of the Elephant Listening Project, who took precious time to respond to my questions and did so very generously!  An equally large thank you to everyone at the ELP, including Andrea Turkelo, and everyone within various African countries that work to preserve these animals.  And finally, a big thank you to my mom, who introduced me to Katy Payne and the Elephant Listening Project by giving me the book Silent Thunder.

Books (and magazine article) referenced:

  1. Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants, Katy Payne, 1998, Simon & Schuster
  2. Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis, Ronald Orenstein, 2013, Firefly Books
  3. The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa, Caitlin O’Connell, 2007, Free Press
  4. Ivory Worship, Bryan Christy, National Geographic, October, 2012

You can help!  Adopt-an-elephant:

The Elephant Listening Project:

More info about Andrea Turkelo from NPR:

12.9.2014: Important updates on the ivory trade: two articles related to the massive number of elephant deaths for the ivory trade.  These two point to China as the major market behind this, adding that selling mammoth tusks is legal in that country.

( – if you need)

“Le massacre des éléphants d’Afrique et le commerce de leur ivoire en Chine sont «hors de contrôle» et pourraient provoquer leur extinction d’ici une génération.”

Sustainable Paper from a Unique Source – Thailand

The previous post explored Mr. Ellie Pooh, a company in Sri Lanka that produces sustainable paper from elephant dung.

In this post, Michael Flancman, Co-Founder and CEO of Alternative Enterprises Co., Ltd. in Thailand, generously responded by email to my questions. He discusses the origins of his fascinating company–one that also produces paper products from elephant dung (amongst other animals, including giant tortoise dung!)–about the importance of sustainability and conservation, and about the plight of elephants in other places in the world.

For further details on how this type of paper is produced, please visit their website:!

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1. How did POOPOOPAPER get started and how long have you been involved with the company? (Who is the other co-founder?)

I started the company with my wife in 2004. She’s from Chiang Mai, Thailand where we are located. I’m from Canada.

We started to fiddle with the concept of making non-tree, non-wood pulp based papers in 2002 though but it took us a few years to develop a viable material/ product. We had been working with handicrafts in SE Asia for a number of years prior and we had a fair bit of experience working with all sorts of crafted goods…from silk to ceramics, wood, candles, metals, paper etc.

In 2004, we decided we wanted to focus. We wanted to focus on products that had some integrity from a sustainability stand-point. This area has a long tradition with papermaking with mulberry bark and the local skill helped us as we set out to develop a range of many different types of non-tree, alternative fiber papers.

Handcraft Paper


 [[Image courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]


Our first was paper made from elephant dung. Dung is abundant in Northern Thailand with about 5,000 elephants in the region. In some areas disposal is a bit of a problem.

Made With Real

 [[Image courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]

2. What made you choose to move from solely elephant dung to other types?

There was interest and demand and it seemed to be a natural progression. We developed our Cow and Horse POOPOOPAPER at the request of customers and other interested people we’ve met who were interested in our chemical-free process and curious about the use of different raw fiber materials to produce non-wood, tree-free pulp and paper.

This is also what led us to developing our other bleach-free, chlorine-free alternative fiber based papers such as coconut fiber, banana stalk, corn and pineapple husk fiber, bamboo fibers, etc.

Boiling to a Pulp

[[Image of fibers in the process of boiling to produce clean pulp, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]

We felt the process was similar (recipe and pulp mixture slightly different) and making a marketable product was achievable. We had access to a significant and consistent supply of a variety of different waste fiber materials due to the widespread agriculture/ farming activity that is prevalent in the area. FYI, our legal company name is Alternative Pulp & Paper Co., Ltd which reflects our interest and focus on alternative paper options.

Clean and Dry Elephant Dung

[[Image of clean and dry elephant dung, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]


3. How is the dung collected? (Zoos? Farms?)

Our elephant dung is collected via a network of mahouts and conservation camps that we’ve cobbled together over the years. There are also numerous poop dumps in a handful of districts where there are literally mounds of poo that’s been collected and discarded. Disposal is a problem in some villages. There are close to 5000 elephants in Northern Thailand. We send the pick-up trucks to collect dung on an as need basis. Sometimes we pay and other times we exchange for bananas, sugar cane or other edible vegetation which can be fed to the elephants.

Poo Pulp

 [[Image of “poo pulp balls”, clean fiber from dung mixed with other non-wood fibers and formed into balls to make paper, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]

 Paper Screens sun

[[Image of paper screens drying in the sun, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]

Elephant Dung Paper Sheets

[[Image of sheets of elephant dung paper, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]


4. As I have mentioned, my interest in connecting with you was related to elephants and their conservation. Has your company made any impacts on elephant (or other animal) conservation in Thailand?

We like to think we’re making a modest, positive contribution in a variety of areas. We try to do what we can to contribute and support a few different causes that are dear to my wife and I. We certainly hope the contributions we make are somewhat impactful. Here are a few of the numerous projects we’ve been involved in to varying degrees:

Specifically related to elephants in Thailand:

1. 2008 – we partially funded the construction of an elephant shelter at the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng, Thailand which is operated by well known elephant conservationist Lek Chailert. The shelter had a capacity for two full-grown elephants and protected them for the elements. ENP rescues elephants and provides a sanctuary where they can roam freely within their 500-acre river valley location.

2. 2011 – we supported Project Elephant Footprint in Botswana. This is largely a research initiative established to study the migratory habits of the elephants there in order to better understand the nature of elephant/human conflicts in this part of Africa. This support was in tandem with the San Diego Zoo Global organization.

Other (non-Thailand):

1. We currently support Elephant Parade and their Asian Elephant Foundation with preferential pricing to help them maximize contributions to the AEF.

2. Since 2008, we have contributed in-kind over $5,000 to various zoo-related non-profit entities.

3. Raised money to purchase and install a research camera to monitor the elusive snow leopard in the Malaysian rainforest. The snow leopard is threatened and the cameras help scientists better understand the number of leopards in a given area and their habits – data which helps them formulate recommendation for species survival.

4. Cash donations to CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society).

5. Cash donations to National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

6. In-kind donation to support the filming of ‘For The Love of Elephants‘ which is a documentary that sheds light on the plight of tortured/ abused elephants in India.

7. In-kind donation to Akash Patel’s ‘Elephants in the Classroom’ educational initiative. The 60 minute inter-disciplinary interactive standards-based (Pre K-6) SMART board lesson on elephants aims to raise awareness amongst young students in Oklahoma about elephants and sea turtles and other threatened animals. This is a recent project which expect to support on an on-going basis. Mr. Patel, a native of Nepal, uses our products to raise funds to help subsidize his free lecture series to thousands of young students every month.

8. Currently in-kind donation to support fundraising efforts for giant tortoise research in Alhambra Atoll in the Seychelles. We will be making pulp and paper from giant tortoise dung which we will in turn make products from for this initiative.

We also make countless donations to school groups, artists and various other individuals and groups that have a conservation/ recycling angle.


 [[Image of interactive demonstration, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]


5. Do your employees ever create the artistic designs themselves?

Absolutely, that’s where many of our designs originate…especially the designs that have local or indigenous patterns as well those designs we sell in the Asia region and certainly within Thailand.

Elephant Dung (2)

Elephant Dung

[[Images of elephant dung paper products, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]

For Europe or North America we do tend to work with designers/ artists who are familiar with consumers and design preferences in those markets. One thing is for certain: there is always a local staff here involved in some stage of the process for every single item we craft. In fact, if you visit our Elephant POOPOOPAPER Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand you can see first-hand the local artisans crafting all sorts of design concepts every day.

6. Are there any questions I haven’t asked that you think people should know?

I want to share the following:

The primary perspective that our enterprise comes from today is from the perspective of producing an eco-friendly and alternative paper to typical, wood-pulp based papers which require widespread cutting of trees and a production process that pollutes the natural environment. We’re able to use our alternative paper products as a medium to convey the importance of sustainability and conservation….and not just for elephants although they are dear to our hearts since there are thousands in our part of the country. So, coming from the paper perspective, we see no difference between elephant, cow, horse, donkey, coconut, pineapple, corn husk fibers etc. In all cases we collect waste fiber material and process it into rolls or sheets of paper of various weights and regardless of waste fiber material we’re able to be a test case for the successful utilization of alternative fibrous materials to make paper, packaging, labels, stationery etc. using a chemical-free process free of bleach and chlorine.

I also think it’s important that your readers understand that elephants in different countries face somewhat different challenges and to varying degrees. In Botswana and many other countries they are faced with conflicts with human activities and encroachment on their traditional, natural, wild, habitats. In Cambodia or Vietnam, the elephant has virtually been wiped out and it’s more about rebuilding a population, albeit most likely captive. In Thailand, the focus is on keeping elephants and their mahouts away from unnatural, urban environments where they often come to ‘beg’ and perform tricks for tourists (which is arguably a form of abuse), and then, improving the quality of care for the elephant population, which is entirely captive, since it’s been decades since there was a wild population.


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Find out more about Poo Poo Paper and Alternative Pulp & Paper Co., Ltd:

You can see more fabulous pictures about their work here:

You can buy their products online here:

If you are in NH, the Seacoast Science Center carries a few of their products in their store:

For more information on the documentary “For the Love of Elephants”, please visit their website:

For more information on Elephant Parade:

For more information on the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand:

If you haven’t already seen this beautiful video of Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, mentioned above, I highly recommend it (

An Elephas-maximus sized THANK YOU to Michael Flancman for his generous responses to my many questions and the wonderful images provided for this post!!