Nqobile Ntshangase, the Associated Press
Published November 12, 2019 at 4:17.
Last updated Tuesday, November 12, 2019 7:24
MOSSEL BAY, South Africa – The makers of a South African elephant manure-infused gin swear that using animal droppings is no trick.
Indlovu Gin's creators Les and Paula Ansley stumbled upon the idea a year ago after learning that elephants eat a variety of fruits and flowers and still digest less than a third.
"As a result, in elephant dung you get the most amazing variety of these vegetables," Les Ansley said during a recent visit to their operations. "Why don't we let elephants do the hard work of collecting all these botanists and we will gin with that?" he reminded his wife suggesting.
His idea came after a safari during which a ranger described an elephant's digestive process.
Weeks later, he said his wife woke him up in the middle of the night with inspiration. "Okay," I said sleepily. "Let's have a party. Let's see how it works."
The first batch of elephant dung came by mail from the park where they had taken the safari. So the couple, the two scientists, was intrigued for a while before elaborating the gin making process.
Now they collect the manure using their own hands.
They described the flavor of the gin as "lovely, woody, almost spicy, earthy" and subtly changing with the seasons and place.
The gin bottles are marked with the date and coordinates from which the elephant dung was collected. "So you can compare almost different harvests to gin," said Ansley.
After about five bags of manure are collected for a batch of 3,000 to 4,000 bottles of gin, the droppings are dried and crumbled and then washed to remove dirt and sand. Eventually, only the remains of the fruits, flowers, leaves and bark eaten by the elephants are left behind.
These vegetables are then sterilized and dried again and placed in an aeration cabinet. Think of it as a "spice cabinet," said Ansley. Eventually, the remains are infused in the gin.
The couple is not above testing gin on friends before explaining its provenance. Even with a prior explanation, they keep their eyebrows raised.
"Most people's initial reaction is: 'What? No way.' But most people are very keen to really prove it," said Ansley. And once people hear about the digestive process of elephants "it becomes much clearer to them and they accept it very well".
They decided to name the Indlovu gin, which means elephant in the Zulu language. The couple didn't say how much of the gin they sold. One bottle sells for about 500 rand, or about $ 32.
Gin is often a hit with tourists looking for a unique souvenir and story to tell when they return home, the couple said. With that in mind, the gin is sold in game stores and duty free shops, in addition to regular online sales.
"I even touched the elephant dung and being close to the animals is very majestic," said a South African visitor, Elsabe Hannekom. "So having a piece of them is really great. An export from the African experience, I'd say."
After a sip, another guest, Jade Badenhorst, pondered, "Interesting. Very tasty. Very good. I didn't expect to be able to drink a gin smoothly."