In fact, the elephants will only drink milk made from Fonterra’s NZMP Fortified Milk Powder, which is only manufactured at Fonterra’s Waitoa factory in the Matamata-Piako District.
Four years ago, seven baby pygmy elephants were rescued by the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre after poachers killed their parents.
Located deep in a large forest reserve in Sabah, the centre is renowned for rehabilitating orphaned orangutans, displaced sun bears and rhinos.
For Kiwi Rotarian Debbie Mair, who has visiting the centre when the baby elephants arrived, it was love at first sight.
When it became clear they were not growing, Mair bought local milk powder for them.
But they still didn’t thrive and some even died over the following months.
Mair took action.
Over four weeks, milk powders from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Japan were tested on the surviving elephants, with vet oversight and care.
The results were astounding, Mair said.
“When the elephants were offered a choice of milk powders, they actively wanted to drink Fonterra’s NZMP Fortified Milk Powder. The elephants refused to drink the other brands – the Fonterra one was their absolute favourite,” she said.
As a Rotary Action Group for Endangered Species (Rages) board member, Mair has been the driving force behind the project to rescue the elephants.
“These elephants deserve a good chance at life. Their species depends on their survival.”
Rages consultant Ben Smith, a former Fonterra farmer and now a grass researcher at an animal health and nutrition company, said it appeared the elephants recognised intuitively that milk produced from grass-fed New Zealand cows is first class.
“The elephants naturally graze on the lush grass along jungle river banks and Fonterra’s grass-fed milk emulates their pastoral eating habits,” he said.
“As a long-time farmer, it’s heartwarming to know that New Zealand farmers are helping to conserve the next generation of this endangered species.”
To date, the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund has donated one metric tonne of NZMP milk powder, as well as sold milk powder to the centre at reduced cost.
“Our partnerships are providing invaluable support for the sanctuary. In addition, work with our partners and wildlife advocates is making steps towards decreasing human-elephant conflict and animal deaths,” Mair said.
Believed to be a small subspecies of the Asian elephant, Borneo’s endangered pygmy elephants live in the county’s tropical rainforests.
They are thought to have descended from captive elephants owned by the Sultan of Sulu in 1750.
There are an estimated 1500 of them in the wild. Their long-term survival is threatened by habitat destruction and poachers.
By: Katrina Tanirau