South African Gin Is Made With Elephant Waste

29 November, 2019

A South African alcohol maker say it is using bodily waste from elephants to make the popular drink called gin.

Les and Paula Ansley are the creators of Indlovu Gin. They came across the idea a year ago during a safari. They learned that elephants eat many kinds of fruits and flowers. However, the animals' bodies only process less than a third of the plant material they eat.

Ansley told The Associated Press that, weeks after their trip, his wife woke him up in the middle of the night with the idea. Ansley recalled his wife suggesting, "Why don't we let the elephants do the hard work of collecting all these botanicals and we will make gin from it?"

Ansley noted that elephant waste, or dung, possesses the plant material called botanicals. They are substances often used in gin production to add to the taste.

The first load of elephant dung came by mail from the park where the Ansleys had taken their safari. Then the two scientists began searching for the best way to use elephant waste in the gin-making process. Now they collect the dung themselves, using their hands.

Les Ansley, and his wife Paula, collect fresh elephant dung in the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, near Mossel Bay, South Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2019.
Les Ansley, and his wife Paula, collect fresh elephant dung in the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, near Mossel Bay, South Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2019.

They described the gin's taste as "lovely, wooded, almost spicy, earthy." The taste, they say, changes a little with the seasons and location.

The gin bottles are marked with the date and location of where the elephant dung was collected. "So, you're able to compare almost different vintages of the gin," Ansley said.

It takes about five large bags of elephant dung to make between 3,000 and 4,000 bottles of the gin. The elephant waste is first dried and broken down into small pieces. Then it is washed to remove dirt and sand. Eventually, only the remains of fruits, flowers and other plant materials are kept.

Harmful bacteria and germs are then removed from the botanicals, which are dried again and placed in an airing container. Think of it like a "spice cupboard," Ansley said. Eventually, the remains are added to the gin.

The Ansleys test the gin on their friends before explaining how they make it.

"The initial reaction of most people is, ‘What? There's no way.' But most people are very keen to actually taste it," Ansley said. And once people hear about elephants' digestive process "it becomes a lot clearer to them, and they accept it very well."

The Ansleys decided to name the gin Indlovu, which means elephant in the Zulu language. They did not say how much of the gin they have sold. A bottle sells for around 500 rand, or about $32.

The gin is popular with travelers seeking an unusual gift and a story to tell when they return home.

One South African visitor, Elsabe Hannekom, said she felt closer to the animals after touching their waste. "So having a piece of them actually feels ... good. An export of the African experience, I would say."

After a drink, another guest, Jade Badenhorst, noted: "Interesting. Very tasty. Very nice. I didn't expect to be able to drink a gin smoothly."

I'm Pete Musto.

Nqobile Ntshangase reported on this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. We want to hear from you. What kinds of unusual food and drink does your country produce? Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

safarin. a trip to see or hunt animals especially in Africa

spicyadj. flavored with or containing strong substances and especially ones that cause a burning feeling in your mouth

vintage(s) – n. the year or place in which alcohol, especially wine of high quality, was produced

cupboardn. a piece of furniture used for storage that has doors and contains shelves

initialadj. happening at the beginning of something

keen ­adj. very excited about and interested in something