There must be a million different cultural practices around the world, that were all developed for reasons specific to their region. Often, places become famous for a certain quality or way of doing something, like Fez’s industrious leather trade. But do you know just how many of them use a certain peculiar material for various reasons? Yes, there’s animal poo involved in the making of Morocco’s famous leather – and they’re not the only ones using the stinky substance…
In case you’re wondering, then yes, animal poop is an essential ingredient in the leather making process. If you’ve ever been to Fez’s impressive souks, you’ll know that the tanneries themselves make for spectacular pictures, with colourful liquids filling huge barrels. Unfortunately, you’ll also be well acquainted with the smell of these tanneries. As you might suspect, given the ingredient used, they don’t smell all that pleasant. The animals in question are pigeons, which are kept and looked after by some Moroccan citizens in return for bags full of pigeon poop. It’s not just poo used here, either: the raw hides are first soaked in a cow urine mixture, then moved to the excrement-filled barrels. The ammonia in the waste softens the leather and allows dyes to be absorbed more easily. It seems our pretty shoes come at a smelly, smelly cost…
So, if our shoes aren’t safe, how about our haircare? You know what’s been all the rage recently? Argan oil products. This popular Moroccan oil is found in shampoos, conditioners and skincare – but did you know that the most efficient way to produce it involves goat excrement? Delightful! The goats scamper up the argan trees, chow down on the fruit, and then either spit or poop out the hard nuts, which are then collected and broken open to produce the oil. So, if it helps, the oil itself never touches the poo… It’s something of a delicacy and is traditionally used as a dressing for food, but also in nourishing skincare and haircare products. Traditionally, it’s a process reserved for women, meaning that the recent increase in interest has been fantastic for Morocco’s female population. Maybe don’t start boycotting your shampoo just yet!
Perhaps all this talk of poop has left a bad taste in your mouth? How about a nice cup of coffee? You know where this is going, and yes, I am sorry to tell you that you can indeed get coffee that has been made with poo. There are two famous varieties: luwak coffee, which is made with the help of civets (a small nocturnal mammal in the mongoose family), and Black Ivory Coffee, which is aided by elephant dung. It’s said that the enzymes in the waste help to tone down the characteristic bitter taste of coffee, leaving a smooth, delicious drink after extraction. In fact, Black Ivory Coffee is the world’s most expensive coffee bean! An entrepreneur in Thailand began making luwak coffee, but soon noted that concerns were being voiced globally about the conditions that some of the animals were being kept in. He decided instead to see what happened if he fed the coffee cherries to elephants, and discovered that it had a similar effect, without having to force-feed the animals an unreasonable number. Thankfully, going through dung isn’t a common practice in coffee manufacturing, so you’re probably OK enjoying your usual morning caffeine hit!
Oh come on, now. Really? Who on earth would want to put bits of animal waste on display?! I’m afraid this one is actually fairly close to home: scientists working with the Isle of Wight Zoo in the UK have collected various samples of animal dung and preserved them, so that they and the general public can examine what the animals’ diets are like. We reckon this is one exhibit that would be especially popular with 10-year-old boys!
Those Thai elephants are back at it, earning them another spot on this coveted dung-filled list. If you’ve ever been to northern Thailand, you’ll know it’s a haven for elephants, with sanctuaries abounding and relatively strict rules about the animals’ welfare. The elephants’ dung, which is apparently mostly made up of fibre that they can’t digest, is sterilised before being spun into notebooks. Quite the souvenir! This practice isn’t limited to just elephants, either: you can find panda poo paper (also in Thailand), or even sheep faeces paper in Wales, if you don’t fancy venturing too far from home!
Chinese traditional medicine has a bit of a reputation around the world for being fairly unconventional: rhino horns and tiger bones are two things commonly associated with the practice. But they also make good use of the thing others would probably consider a waste product. Tiger poop has been used, according to National Geographic, to treat boils, haemorrhoids and alcoholism – we don’t like to think how they went about administering that last cure! It’s not limited to tigers, though. Apparently flying squirrel dung also has its uses – predominantly the treatment of menstrual cramps. I think we’ll be sticking to the painkillers from Boots…
Do you reckon that’s an oxymoron? Cleaning anything with poo doesn’t seem all that likely… but in Bolivia, llama waste is used as a filter to rid polluted water of dissolved metals and neutralise the acidity. This practice isn’t restricted to just one country, though: the method was originally designed in England using cow and horse manure and is currently being tested in Italy using cow waste. More than 60% is turned into clean water, with the leftovers made into a concentrated fertiliser. Here’s hoping the water isn’t used for drinking afterwards…
Who doesn’t love a bit of poop to take home? Uh, we’d say everyone – but Alaskans disagree. One highlight of their July calendar is the Moose Dropping Festival. Yeah. Maybe the low, low temperatures have addled their brains, or maybe they’re just lacking some fun activities, but either way it’s true. One of the most popular games is the Moose Dropping Drop Game, where pieces of faeces are flung out of a helicopter for players to guess where they’ll land. And don’t you worry, if you want a taste of the fun all year round (sorry), pick up some moose dung earrings or a moose poop swizzle stick to stir your drinks. We reckon it’s enough to put you off your food!