From an American coffee importing business to a Thai humanitarian, different parts of the globe are teaming up to source you choice beans while supporting elephant rescue efforts in Thailand at the same time.
BY MASON MERRILL
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Elephants have long been held in high cultural esteem by the peoples of the environs they inhabit. They are, among other traits, revered for their strength, longevity, wisdom, memory, and maternal instincts. Not only that, but their very existence and way of life is essential to maintaining the areas they live in. Digging for water with their trunks during the dry season creates pools of water enabling other animals to also drink. Their near insatiable appetites cause them to forage for 18 hours a day, making for wide tracks in forest vegetation creating causeways for other animals, as well as buffer zones between forest fires. Many plants are dispersed by undigested seeds through being dropped in their dung.
The treatment they have often received from the same cultures that revere them, though, has often been tragic. The poaching of African pachyderms for their ivory is widely known, and lesser recognized is the abuse of elephants through forcing them into tourist industry trappings, illegal logging operations, or begging on the streets. While subjugated to the above circumstances, elephant rescuers speak of the many bodily and emotional injuries accrued during these atrocities suffered through the elephants’ long lives, which rival those of humans. It is in rectifying these wrongs and providing a safe haven for elephants in need that our story begins to come full circle.
Lek Chailert, an internationally recognized humanitarian of compassion and care, has dedicated her life to rescuing elephants, and other animals (check out ENP’s efforts here in working with dogs stranded during the Bangkok floods of 2011), in distress. While these elephants suffer from any number of causes ”tourism-related injuries, sickness, loss of habitat ”Lek has established the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) endeavoring to provide these gentle giants with an environment oriented around safety and supplying of their creature needs. So far she has rescued over 200 of these at-risk pachyderms, and as most homegrown, grass-roots organizations are wont to do, ENP is often in need of additional funds.
When Bert von Roemer, president of the Serengeti Foundation, first came into contact with Lek, he immediately recognized the significance of her rescue efforts and committed himself to helping her. Back then in 2003, Lek’s elephant sanctuary was sitting upon land leased from the Thai government. Using profits from his newly formed coffee importing company, Serengeti Trading Co., Bert funded the purchase of the land ENP currently rests upon in the hills of the Chiang Mai province. It was through these auspicious beginnings, rooted in a connection with coffee, that ENP formed its relationship with coffee and that the ENP Coffee Co. was created.
Neighboring the ENP in the Chiang Mai province is a Karen Hill tribe, a group of people originally from Myanmar but with concentrations now around the globe. Grown and harvested on these elevated and mountainous lands of the Karen Hill tribe are shade grown Caturra and Catimor varietals of Arabica. It is for the sole reason of importing and selling these forest grown coffees to support the Elephant Nature Park that the ENP Coffee Co exists. A holistic and integrated enterprise, this web of relationships benefits all parties involved, not least the Karen Hill tribe, by providing them a wholesome livelihood, with fair and just working conditions, allowing them to preserve their traditional cultural values and practices.
With 100% of profits given to the Elephant Nature Park, ENP Coffee Co. is truly an impressive and compassionate venture. Funds are used for medical equipment and expenses to tend to sick elephants, costs associated with rescuing elephants, and land acquisition. This latter issue of land acquisition, and preservation, is one closely connected with elephants. Often employed in the illegal deforestation market, elephants are often forced into destroying their very homelands by transporting the downed trees that constitute their environment. ENP is directly connected with counter-acting these forces through their efforts here. Now, the very cause of caring for elephants is the championing force overcoming these destructive practices towards them ”practices that are completely antithetical to the vision of the Elephant Nature Park, ENP Coffee Co, and the Serengeti Foundation. And luck have it that a popular and common bean has come to be an integral and unifying force in helping people to stand upon a popular and common ground: compassion for the well being of others, both human and beast.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mason Merrill is a seasoned barista, with roots in Austin, TX, but now residing in Portland, OR, where he works for Coava Coffee. A lover of latte art and an organizer of monthly throwdowns for the PDX community, you can find him coffee shop hopping on his off days and dreaming about the next breakfast taco he’ll eat.