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Elephant dung trade harmful to biodiversity

THE use of elephant dung for medicinal purposes is quickly spreading with environmental conservationists expressing concern over the trend, which they say is harmful to the biodiversity.
Traditional healers believe elephant dung cures various respiratory diseases and controls high blood pressure and diabetes.
But ecologists say the trend is harmful to the environment because elephant dung is a habitat for many insects and other small life forms.
They say beetles also use the elephant dung as nests for their eggs and that when the young ones hatch, they feed on the droppings.
A survey recently conducted by the Daily Mail at Soweto Market and some parts of the Copperbelt revealed that the trend of selling elephant dung as medicine is fast growing.
Traditional healers usually pack the dung in small sacks and openly display it for sale.
Mwape Sichilongo, an ecologist working for Kafue Flats Restoration Partnership, says elephant dung is part of the nutrient cycle and is a source of food for some animals.
Mr Sichilongo said the elephant dung also plays a critical role in forest regeneration through seed dispersement.
“Some seeds do not germinate unless they pass through the stomach of an animal,” he added.
Mr Sichilongo said the elephant dung is also a nest for the beetles that help to move the waste around and mix it with soil to promote the nutrient cycle.
He said insects such as the dung beetle depend on the elephant dung to reproduce, and that collecting it from the forest can disturb the biodiversity.
Griffin Shanungu, an ecologist and researcher from International Crane Foundation Zambia, said collecting dung from national parks can have adverse effects on vegetation.
Mr Shanungu said an elephant consumes about 200 kilogrammes of vegetation per day, discharging dung weighing 100kg.
He said the dung has an impact on the soil nutrient property of the forest and also plays a critical role in the dispersement of seeds.
Meanwhile, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife says it is illegal for people to collect elephant dung from national parks.
“It is illegal for you to go to any national park or protected area and start picking up anything, not even a leaf. The only thing that you are allowed to go and pick from the national park are photographs. You are allowed to take photographs and go with them home because you have to tell a story. Picking anything from the national park, whether hyena or elephant dung, is illegal,” says Ministry of Tourism public relations officer Sakabilo Kalembwe.