The little village of Sedgefield, midway between George and Knysna on the Garden Route, has many surprises for the visitor – not least that it is home to what’s believed to be the world’s only commercial producer of elephant-dung paper.
Words: Mike Simpson Photos: Jeanette Simpson, OlivePink Photography
Scarab Paper at the popular Scarab Market sells postcards and wildlife prints on coarse-fibre paper that’s created from a 25-step process which mixes elephant dung with shredded waste paper. The process creates paper that’s ideal for use by artists because it doesn’t smudge when pencil, oil, ink, acrylic, etc is applied.
“No, it doesn’t smell,” says owner André Knoetze,” who adds that this is the most commonly asked question by visitors. “Our processes ensure that the paper is clean and sanitary.”
According to André, it’s not widely known that elephant dung is ideal for creating coarse-fibre paper. “Artist Sheila Cooper-Collins, who founded the business in 1997, might have been the first person to do this. She needed paper with a nice texture and started making it in her garage.”
André took over the business with his wife Rita, also an artist, in 2002 and they have turned it into a thriving operation that sells not only to Scarab visitors, but to customers throughout South Africa and as far afield as the United Kingdom and United States. “People love the idea of elephant- pooh paper,” André says with a chuckle. “It has great novelty value.”
He says the Garden Route is an ideal location for a venture of this kind because it is home to two elephant sanctuaries, from which the necessary raw material can be sourced. Not that a massive amount of dung is needed. “We only need about two handfuls of dung in a basin,” he explains. “The process starts with shredded computer paper and we make pulp from that. We treat and wash the paper and add the dung, then boil the dung and paper mix and wash it with caustic soda to get the fibres nice and clear.”
The process is quite lengthy and also involves a 50-ton hydraulic press to rid the paper of water, and bond the fibres, plus a drying process in an oven and in the sun. Once the paper has been prepared, Rita paints wildlife scenes and these are reprinted on the paper, either as postcards or as full-size prints.
“She is the resident artist and I manage the business,” says André. “I retired to Sedgefield to drink beer and play the stock market. We bought Scarab Paper to keep Rita out of mischief, but now it’s a thriving business and keeps both of us busy.”