Lake Missoula, Cafe Dolce first to join UM’s elephant friendly tea program

The University of Montana is tracking Asian elephant movements and working with tea communities to reduce human-elephant conflict at the first Certified Elephant Friendly Tea Estate in Assam, India. (Anshuma Basumatary)

A University of Montana effort to save the endangered Asian elephant by selling tea certified as wildlife friendly has won the support of two Missoula businesses, the school announced last week.

In partnership with the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, UM’s Broader Impacts Group this month launch the world’s first tea certification program designed to protect the endangered elephant.

UM showcased the project during the World Tea Expo held in Las Vegas. The new farm-to-cup program engages tea growers, sellers and consumers to help conserve Elephas maximus, according to Lisa Mills, the university’s liaison for the project.

“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 Mills. “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.”

Over the past 75 years, the Asian elephant population has declined more than 50 percent, with only 40,000 to 50,000 remaining, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Mills said much of the decline correlates with human-elephant conflict and the replacement of elephant habitat by tea plantations.

While 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, like deep drainage ditches, improperly installed electric fencing and the chemicals, have harmed elephants.

Under the new program, certified tea producers commit to reducing the negative impacts to elephant populations, and the first plantation became certified in Assam, India, this spring, Mills said.

Lake Missoula Tea Company and Café Dolce in Missoula are the first businesses to carry Certified Elephant Friendly Tea. The program 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.