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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Where there's muck...
Sometimes, the ideas that people turn into thriving businesses never fail to amaze.

And they don't come much more bizarre than Mark Henson's company, ThuThuKa.

Let's not beat around the bush - he sells elephant poo.

Not in its natural state, it has to be said.

It's composted and processed and sold with exotic grass seeds as safari poo planters.

Novelty gift

Mark sells about 5,000 planters a year, half of them at Christmas but they're also
It's a very strange business but they say that where there's muck there's money.
Mark Henson, ThuThuKa
popular as presents for things such as Mother's Day.

"It is a novelty gift," says Mark.

"It was originally aimed at kids but I don't think we sell a lot to kids anymore."

The idea came when Mark saw a similar product on a visit to South Africa - his wife's home country.

He had previously worked in catering equipment sales but was looking for a career change.

Nitrogen content

"Due to health restrictions, you're not allowed to import it so we looked at developing our own line," he explained.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Elephants spend three-quarters of their time feeding.
They eat 200kg every day - half that weight comes out as dung.
At Woburn, their diet includes hay, grass, bananas, carrot, sugar beet and bran.
The trunk has more than 100,000 muscles and tendons.
"It has quite a good nitrogen content and when blended and mixed it does make a very good potting compost, so it's ideal for the seeds we produce."

The main thing for Mark was to find a supply of his raw materials.

Woburn Safari Park, about a 40-minute drive from his Northamptonshire home, was happy to help out.

Every few weeks, Mark takes a couple of dustbins to Woburn to fill up.

Mark Henson
Mark uses one tonne a year
A little goes quite a long way - he gets through about a tonne a year.

And he's become quite matey with the park's three elephants - Raja, Damini and Chandrika.

"It's a nice business to be in," says Mark. "To be able to come here and do this is a bit of a privilege really, and we support animal conservation through it."

Donation

The poo planters are sold on ThuThuKa's website and also at the Woburn shop and other zoos and safari parks.

Poo planter
The finished product...
They cost 4.99 and a donation from each pack sold goes towards Woburn's plan for a new elephant enclosure.

"It's a great use for the elephant manure," says Woburn's marketing manager, Cheryl Williams.

"The boys are clearing six barrowloads out every day, so it solves an elephantine problem for us.

"Also, it's an interesting gift for the visitors and there's a donation to our charity."

Seeds and flowers

ThuThuKa - the name is Zulu for "to grow" - also sells plant and vegetable seeds and flowers imported from South Africa.

Elephants
The manure is in big demand
But Mark knows the value of his main brand.

"We've got a few ideas for products to run on from this," he says.

"We would like to do some bagged manure and we might even do some mushroom kits for jumbo mushrooms."

Mark is not alone in making business capital out of nature.

Elephant dung can also be used to make paper, and a number of companies now offer this unusual stationery.

Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili even incorporated elephant manure in some of his works.

And lion dung, sold by some zoos, is very good for keeping unwanted cats off your property.

"It's a very strange business but they say that where there's muck there's money," points out Mark.

""Not that there's a lot of money, but there's a lot of muck!"



WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rob Pittam
"The elephants produce the raw materials for an unusual business venture"



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