Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network

Nuxalbari Tea Estate Becomes Second Enterprise in the World to Earn Elephant Friendly™ Certification

Darjeeling Tea Plantation Works to Secure a Future for Wild Elephants through Coexistence


AUGUST 6, 2018 – DARJEELING – The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) and the University of Montana (UM) are pleased to announce the certification of the historic Nuxalbari Tea Estate, the first large acreage tea producer to be recognized under the Certified Elephant Friendly™ Tea program. Nuxalbari Tea Estate is a 1200-acre woman-owned and operated tea estate in Darjeeling District of West Bengal, India. This newly certified enterprise is the second globally to receive this recognition, and the first in Darjeeling District. The Elephant Friendly™ Tea certification program establishes stringent certification standards for the protection of endangered Asian elephants and the reduction of human-elephant conflict. This innovative effort is being spearheaded through a partnership between WFEN, a global community dedicated to the development of enterprises that contribute to the conservation of threatened wildlife and to the economic vitality of rural landscapes, and conservation biologists and sustainability-focused business experts at the University of Montana, to connect tea growers, sellers and consumers in a farm-to-cup approach.

Nuxalbari Tea Estate owner Sonia Jabbar with the new Certified Elephant Friendly™ farm sign at her 1200 acre tea plantation. Photo credit: Nuxalbari Tea Estate

Nuxalbari Tea Estate owner Sonia Jabbar with the new Certified Elephant Friendly™ farm sign at her 1200 acre tea plantation. Photo credit: Nuxalbari Tea Estate

Engaging tea growers as active partners in elephant conservation is critical to the future of Asian elephants in the wild. Agricultural lands planted for tea production can play a vital role as corridors of movement between natural areas. Tea plantations often serve as nurseries where elephant mothers give birth and rest for a few days until their newborn babies are strong enough to move with the herd. However, agricultural practices on tea estates can present potential dangers for elephants. Drainage ditch hazards can trap elephants, especially juveniles. Improperly installed electric fencing or sagging electricity lines can pose electrocution risks for elephants. Chemicals used in conventional tea production, if not stored securely or applied judiciously, can poison elephants. Blocking of elephant corridors with fencing or walls can disrupt age-old patterns of movements of elephant herds. Human-elephant conflict can have grave consequences for both elephants and tea worker communities.

Nuxalbari Tea Estate, established in 1884, has been within the same family for four generations with operations currently led by Sonia Jabbar, a fifth-generation tea planter, conservationist, polo player and single mother. “Elephants are living bodhisattvas,” says Ms. Jabbar, “We humans can learn a lot from them. They are big and powerful, but choose to remain patient with us despite the fact that we rob them of their forests, tease, harass, and even kill them. It is our duty to protect these gentle giants and we must learn to peacefully co-exist with them on this beautiful earth. I am very grateful to WFEN and the University of Montana (UM) for recognizing and supporting our work.”

Elephants are welcome to move through Nuxalbari Tea Estate as they travel between fragments of remaining forests in the elephant corridor between southeast Nepal and north Bengal in India. Photo credit: Nuxalbari Tea Estate

Elephants are welcome to move through Nuxalbari Tea Estate as they travel between fragments of remaining forests in the elephant corridor between southeast Nepal and north Bengal in India. Photo credit: Nuxalbari Tea Estate

As a result of Ms. Jabbar’s efforts for the past 7 years, Nuxalbari Tea Estate has become a safe haven for wild elephants as they move between shrinking fragments of forests in north Bengal. In order to reduce human-elephant conflict the estate’s security guards are trained to maintain a 400-meter safe corridor for elephants to pass through unharmed. Other projects to promote biodiversity within the tea estate include the establishment of a 100-acre re-wilding project for native species including elephants. Ms. Jabbar leads a Hathi Sathi nature club for the children of tea workers to encourage a new generation of “Barefoot Conservationists.” To address the concerns of neighboring farmers affected by hungry elephants that raid their fields and cause economic distress to an already struggling population, there are future plans to establish a fund for crop insurance to cover economic losses caused by elephants. Coexistence between humans and elephants requires significant buy-in from the local community and forest officials, and Ms. Jabbar hopes to inspire other tea growers to embark on similar efforts.

“Elephant Friendly™ tea certification provides an opportunity for tea consumers to reward tea growers for changing practices that have negative impacts on elephant populations and enables companies to tell a story of coexistence to consumers,” said WFEN Executive Director and co-founder Julie Stein, “and we are thrilled to welcome our first woman-owned certified tea grower into the Wildlife Friendly™ family of brands.”

Lisa Mills, who serves as the liaison for the University of Montana on this project, explains: “We have completed a full year of testing the consumer market and have found that when Certified Elephant Friendly™ tea products are offered as a choice amongst otherwise similar quality products, consumers prefer knowing their dollars are making a difference for elephants. As of August 2018, more than 50 companies are carrying Certified Elephant Friendly™ tea products.”

Since the early 1800’s tea consumption has been on the rise, and today it is the most popular beverage worldwide. Tea plantations have replaced much of the natural habitat of Asian elephants and other species. Habitat loss and the associated human-elephant conflict, which often lead to loss of life for both people and elephants, have contributed significantly to the decline of Asian elephant populations. According to the IUCN Red List, Asian elephants, or Elephas maximus, are an endangered species, with an estimated 40,000-50,000 remaining across their range countries, a decline of over 50% in the last 75 years. India holds at least 50% of the remaining population and is the world’s second largest tea producer, with tea lands primarily located in areas historically inhabited by elephants. 
 By purchasing Elephant Friendly™ tea consumers are helping sustain wild elephant populations and to secure their future. Interested companies and consumers can learn more at http://elephantfriendlytea.com and http://wildlifefriendly.org/specie/asian-elephant


About the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network 
WFEN and its certification programs represent grassroots farmers, ranchers, artisans, indigenous peoples and conservation heroes from around the world, including two World Bank Development Marketplace Award winners, a U.N. Equator Prize winner, leadership in the world’s marketplace for REDD+ Carbon Offsets, and a Time Hero for the Planet. Certified Wildlife Friendly® products contribute to the conservation of over twelve million hectares of diverse wetlands, forests, and grasslands; protect keystone endangered species in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin and North America I including the snow leopard, tiger, elephant, cheetah, red panda, and wolf I and benefit over 200,000 people through increased food security, income and employment. For more information visit: www.wildlifefriendly.org

About the University of Montana The University of Montana (UM), located in Missoula, Montana, USA, is a higher education institution, home to the top ranked Wildlife Biology Program in North America and award-winning research, outreach and business innovation programs. The Elephant Friendly™ Program is a partnership between the University of Montana’s Broader Impacts Group, the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, and business and conservation science advisors from across the globe. The UM Blackstone Launchpad and UM School of Business provide additional planning and marketing support. For more information visit: https://www.umt.edu/research/ 


Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network: Julie Stein at Julie@wildlifefriendly.org 

University of Montana: Lisa Mills at lisa.mills@umontana.edu