Goats in an argan tree.Abedellah Aboudrare/Ecole Nationale d'Agriculture
Poop serves many purposes besides simply removing wastes from the body. Here are 10 ways poop makes things better for gourmets, fashion designers and wildlife.
The guts of goats help process the luxury hair cosmetic argan oil. People in southwestern Morocco collect the excrement of tree-going goats that had eaten the fruit of the argan tree. Workers then pick out the leftover seeds from the goat droppings and press those seeds to produce argan oil, an ingredient in cosmetics, including a hair treatment said to create smooth, shiny locks.
As the popularity of rubbing the goat-gut processed oil into one's hair increased, so did pressure on the argan trees. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science documented how profits from argan oil were being used to buy more goats. A glut of goats now eats too many argan tree fruits and damages the trees.
Chile peppers are hot in and out. Jon Sullivan, Wikimedia Commons.
Poo helps plants beyond acting as fertilizer. Bird poop disperses seeds to new areas, helps break open the seeds’ coats and disguises the smell of seeds, which protects them from hungry insects. Chile peppers recently joined the known list of plants that benefit by being part of a bowel movement. A study published in Ecology Letters found that pooped-out pepper seeds survived 370 percent more often than other seeds.
A wild civet gathers ripe Arabika coffee fruits at a coffee plantation producing the expensive Luwak coffee in Bangli district on Bali island.SONNY TUMBELAKA/Getty Images
Humans enjoy the effects of animal digestive systems on plant seeds as well. Coffee beans that have passed through the bowels of the palm civet, a tree-dwelling cat/weasel crossover (shown here dining on coffee berries), sell for top dollar. In Indonesia, the civet scat beans are known as Kopi Luwak. The luxury java can sell for $150 to $270 per pound, reported the New York Times.
Before shelling out that many Benjamins for beans, consumers should be wary of counterfeit kaka coffee which makes up the bulk of supposed Kopi Luwak on the market, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
Even if a coffee connoisseur finds real Kopi Luwak the drink may have a bitter ethical aftertaste. Wildlife conservationists have criticized the production of civet coffee on farms for cruel treatment of the animals and for depleting wild populations of civets.
Hand-picked coffee beans from elephant dung in northern Thailand produce the world's most expensive coffee. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
The price of elephant-excreted coffee can exceed civet java's cost. A single cup sells for $50 in posh hotels and one kilogram of beans goes for $1,100, reported the Financial Post.
The bizarre origin and rarity of the beans results in its pachyderm-sized price. Black Ivory Coffee in Thailand creates the planet’s sole source of the elephant dung drink. A heard of 20 elephants are fed hand-picked red coffee berries. The elephants’ digestive system then ferments away the fruit, leaving only the bean inside. After collection from the mounds of elephant leavings, the beans are cleaned and roasted. The resulting cup of coffee reportedly has low bitterness along with fruity, earthy notes imparted by the other foods that shared the ride through the elephant.
African Elephants drink water at pond in afternoon light at Lewa Conservancy, Kenya, Africa.Getty Images
Besides making better coffee, elephant digestive systems also process and help spread the apple-ring acacia (Acacia albida), ilala palm (Hyphane benguellensis) and other African plants. After the elephants chow down on the plants, the seeds plop out as the elephants travel and often sprout into rows of foliage along elephant paths. Acacia seeds processed by elephant poop have a much higher survival rate compared to those that simply fall from the trees, according to research in the Journal of Arid Environments.
Pachyderms get a payback from the plants, since the acacias provide green foliage even in the dry season and palms have sweet leaves that elephants love.
The giant ground sloth was an avocado aficionado. etee, Wikimedia Commons
Acacia trees still have their elephant allies and their dung to help them survive. Other trees are not so lucky.
Some biologists think avocado trees’ fruit evolved to be eaten and dispersed in the poo of the giant ground sloth (shown here) and other extinct Ice Age beasts. In the absence of giant animals, the trees had to make do with dispersal by smaller animals, including humans.
In the end, dispersal by humans proved to be the most beneficial for the avocado. From their ancient homeland in Mexico, humans spread the avocado around the world.
Eeelgrass is a popular poop planter. NOAA Photo Library, Wikimedia Commons
In 2012, marine biologists first published evidence that eelgrass seeds can survive being eaten by at least three types of fish, one turtle and one variety of bird. Previously, scientists thought eelgrass (shown here), a type of marine plant, could only spread via the currents or by expanding its root system.
Seagrasses, such as eelgrass, form the base of some aquatic ecosystems and help fight climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. However, eelgrass beds are suffering from algae blooms that block light from hitting the grass. Algae blooms can result from nutrient pollution running into the sea from farms and lawns on land. Hitching a ride in an animal’s gut could prove to be an important way for eelgrass to re-colonize lost territory, according to Sarah Sumoski, co-author of the study published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Swiss designer Yvan Arpa's holds his 'dinosaur dung watch.'FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images
Time was on the side of dinosaur poop. Sixty-five million years ago, dino dung was disgusting. Now it is jewelery.
Over the eons, the organic matter in the dino droppings was replaced by minerals. The resulting stones, known as coprolites, can have beautiful swirls of colors when cut open, although on the outside they look pretty much like they did when fresh. Artists now create dazzling pendants and stunning watch faces from the poop of ancient animals.
Paleontologists also value fossilized dung. Unlike fossils that suggest what extinct animals looked like, coprolites provide clues about dinosaur dining habits and parasites.
Tourists make elephant poo paper in Tanzania. Harvey Barrison, Wikimedia Commons
Who knew elephant poop had so many uses?
One company makes paper out of elephant poop and protects pachyderms in the process. Sri Lanka based Mr. Ellie Pooh creates paper from 75 percent elephant turds and 25 percent post-consumer waste, reported Treehugger. The elephants naturally digest away the majority of the plant material and leave behind tough cellulose fibers that make strong paper.
Giving monetary value to elephant funk could save the thousands of elephants that live on Sri Lanka. Collecting elephant excrement gives farmers in Sri Lanka an economic incentive not to kill tuskers that trample their crops.
In Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, tourists can have the pleasure of making their own elephant poo paper by dipping their arms into a slurry of dung and water (shown above).
Bricks of adobe are best made with donkey dung.public domain, Wikimedia Commons
Just as elephant intestines leave only the strong cellulose fibers of plants, horse and donkey droppings contain tough cellulose as well.
A secret I learned while living in rural Honduras was to use that durable dung to make strong bricks of adobe. Straw, small sticks and even animal hair will also work, but donkey dung had the advantage of being premixed into a mud-like substance. Plus, if there was enough wood around to kiln fire the adobe brick, the embedded manure would harden into a caca ceramic.