It’s hard to believe that elephant dung could be the main ingredient of a premium spirit drink, but it’s true. South African gin Indlovu is made with botanicals harvested from the pachyderm poop.
Paula and Les Ansley, both former professors in different fields of biology, decided to moved from the UK to South Africa, after retiring, and come up with a way to contribute to conservation efforts in the region and support the local community. Neither of them had any idea that elephant dung would play such a big part in their plan, it just sort of happened. Today they run a distillery that uses “botanicals foraged by elephants” and harvested from their poop to create Indlovu gin, a unique spirit that doesn’t taste anything like you’d imagine.
The Ansleys came up with the idea of their unique spirit a few years back, while visiting an animal reserve in South Africa. A game ranger was explaining to them how elephants are very particular about the food they forage, but absorb less than half of what they eat, with the other half of their plant diet remaining intact in their dung. Les, a gin lover, asked himself why not let elephants collect the best natural ingredients, and use them to flavor a unique gin?
Although neither of them had any distilling experience, the two came up with a plan to source and use elephant dung to make a high-quality spirit, and in 2018 they founded Indlovu Gin.
“We contacted Botlierskop [Game Reserve in the Western Cape] and we said, do you think you could send us some elephant dung?” Les Ansley told CNN. “They said, yeah sure, no problem, and they mailed us some elephant dung and we started looking at how to prepare it.”
First, the dung is dried and then goes through a sterilization process. It is then rinsed and dried again, and finally infused into the gin. Apart from the classic gin ingredients, like juniper and coriander, Indlovu also gets its flavor from extracts of the elephants’ diet of roots, grasses, fruit and bark, including aloe and acacia.
Every bottle of Indlovu features the GPS coordinates of where the dung was collected from, as well as the date it was collected on. “Depending on where we collect the botanicals or which elephants we collect botanicals from, the gin flavor is going to change slightly,” Les Ansley said.
The first batch of Indlovu gin was produced in November of 2019, and it has since reached various markets, including other African countries and Europe. Its reception has been mixed, which the Ansleys admit was to be expected, considering the controversial nature of the main ingredient used. However many of those who have tried it declared themselves impressed by its taste.
“It’s got an earthy, grassy-type flavor,” Les Ansley said. “We were very aware that if we are making a gin from dung, we have to make a good gin.”
The Andleys’ distillery donated 15% of its profits to the Africa Foundation to support the conservation of elephants.