Paper products made out of elephant and rhinoceros excreta are a duo’s idea of nature conservation.

Innovation can be described as finding creative solutions to a problem. And if the solution happens to solve more than one problem, then that’s a huge bonus. Retired Coal India engineer M.C. Bora and his daughter Nisha Bora recently hit upon a unique solution to protect the wildlife in the eastern state of Assam, while simultaneously providing a means of livelihood for the villagers of Chaygaon.

The dwindling numbers of rhinos and elephants in the surrounding villages, due to poaching, were becoming a serious cause for concern. Then, on a flight back to Guwahati, Mahesh Bora read about a Rajasthan-based paper brand that prided itself for being made in an amazingly eco-friendly way: from elephant dung. Inspired, Bora soon launched Elrhino, a stationery label consisting of paper products made out of elephant and rhinoceros poo.

Says Bora, “The first thought that came to my mind on reading the piece on paper from elephant dung was that if someone could make eco-friendly elephant poo paper in Rajasthan where there are only about a hundred elephants, then we could definitely do the same in the Northeast, where there are around 11,000 elephants. Also, handmade paper made from elephant and rhino poo acts as a source of livelihood for the villagers and this motivates them to protect the surrounding wildlife.” The father-daughter duo extended this ingenious thinking to the brand name Elrhino, which can be construed both as a Spanish play on the words “The Rhino” as well as a merging of the words “elephant” and “rhino”.

Bora, who also holds a post-graduate diploma in Ecology and Environment, has always had a huge interest in conservation and sustainability measures. He points out that because the paper is completely hand-made, it requires very little to no use of fuel or electricity.

He lists out the various ways in which it protects the environment, “It was our intention to make this a completely eco-friendly product. The paper is made by mixing the dung with other waste products like hosiery rags. The paper is organic and acid-free. It further helps in the conservation of two endangered species — the Greater One Horned Rhino and the Asian Elephant. It is also wood-free, so it helps save trees. The paper is recyclable and biodegradable, and no chemicals harmful to the environment are used in making the paper. Finally, no toxic waste is generated.”

He continues, “Elrhino encourages employment and skill development of women. Rural women who are exploited by unscrupulous contractors find better livelihood options through our unit. Elrhino encourages home makers to make paper products at home during their leisure hours, increasing their earning capacity and giving them the flexibility of working from home.”

At present, the organisation is a micro-business unit employing ten people, most of them from the tribal population around the village. Adds Bora, “The Elrhino unit was started with subsidy from the KVIC (Khadi and Village Industries Commission) under the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme. We haven’t yet claimed any subsidy, but we may do that soon.”

The unit produces paper products like notebooks, bags, lampshades and photo frames. The paper is sold from the unit in Assam and through Nisha Bora, who is based in Mumbai. Says Nisha Bora, “The response has been great from all over India. Recently, we were invited to speak on innovation for the CII-organised ‘Jugaad: Dare to Innovate’ conference.”

Elrhino has elicited a great response from both young and old. Says Bora, “The younger generation likes our paper because they find the concept innovative and unique. The older generation likes it for the sustainable process. We have just begun, haven’t yet begun to break even. But we have big plans, and we plan to begin exports of the paper soon too.” Today, Bora’s label not only provides livelihood to the villagers of Chaygaon in Assam, but has also successfully given them a way of staying invested in the cause of protecting the wildlife in the area. Now that’s innovation!

For more details, visit the Elrhino website (www.elrhinopaper.com), or call 099 67 999462.

Elrhino product range

Some products are available off the shelf, most are available on order.

Little animals range: Quirky notebooks, clocks, danglers, photo frames

Gaon range: Artistic albums, notebooks and other stationery showcasing indigenous Assamese crafts.

Lamps: A series of handcrafted lamp shades.

Pappoo and Gaudi range: Easy price points, fun products including coasters, boxes.

Jungle range: Jungle-based themes, prints and embossing on stationery.

Exotic paper sheets: Available in various sizes, paper with effects, for making crafts, packaging etc.