Vet students in Bali spread the word about unethical kopi luwak

By Chloe Tan

In February 2014, Jonna Lehtinen, a primate conservationist residing in Bali, Indonesia, contacted our team about distributing our “Life Behind Bars” infographic at major tourist destinations. She helps at a local rescue centre and works with veterinary students. She is also doing independent research and public education about kopi luwak, which is largely derived from caged civets, and is very popular in Bali.

Recently, we received news that she had engaged her vet students from Udayana University in Denpasar, Bali, to distribute posters in the southern part of the island.

Vet students with the "Life Behind Bars" posters that they distributed in Bali.

Vet students with the “Life Behind Bars” posters that they distributed in Bali.

Thank you Jonna and students for spreading the word!

Calling animal welfare supporters around the world! Is kopi luwak widely sold in your country? If you would like to collaborate and help raise awareness about this cruel trade, contact our team at projectluwaksg@gmail.com!

Nanyang girls inspired to save the civets!

By Koh Fang Yun, Tan Chor Leng, Claudine & Zhang Junyue

Hello there! We are a group of three secondary 3 students from Nanyang Girls’ High School. We are collaborating with Project LUWAK Singapore to create a new poster to help spread awareness of the cruelty behind the cage-sourced kopi luwak trade.

So what spurred us on? Well, it started on 2nd May this year, when civet researcher, Weiting, came to our school for a talk. We were very much surprised that there were civets in Singapore, but what caught our attention were the means and methods of harvesting coffee beans for a cup of kopi luwak. The civets are used as tools, and they are exploited because of the demand for kopi luwak. We wanted to do something for these creatures! In the end, we chose to design posters to raise awareness of this issue.

Our poster!

Our poster!

We think most people know about kopi luwak, but it is the cruelty behind every cup that needs to be made known. The eventual design for the poster was inspired by the pictographs of different types of coffee (with so many types of coffee available, it can really be confusing!). While most coffees are a combination of espresso and milk, kopi luwak is basically the life of a civet. We intend to use this contrast to bring across our message. We have learnt a lot about civets as well during this process.

Do play a part in helping to save these beautiful civets by not drinking kopi luwak. Tell your family and friends as well.

Updates from the team – Project LUWAK in Singapore and beyond

By Chloe Tan and Gladys Chua

Since Project LUWAK Singapore was founded in October 2013, the team has taken various steps to inform the public about the plight of common palm civets in the caged-sourced kopi luwak trade. Our main outreach strategies include 1) educating merchants/cafes, 2) partnering established animal welfare organisations and 3) spreading the word through social media and public talks. We initially aimed to campaign against kopi luwak locally, but it eventually caught the attention of concerned groups and individuals overseas, and several partnerships were forged as a result. Here’s a look back at our milestones so far and also a glimpse of what’s to come!

Project LUWAK in Singapore

Launch of our infographics

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As a team leveraging heavily on the power of social media, we recruited artist Esther Wee who designed this eye-catching series of infographics. The initial launch received 130 shares!

Partnership with SPCA Singapore

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In January 2014, we linked up with SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Singapore and shared a write-up on unethically-sourced kopi luwak. The kind people at SPCA promptly published an article expressing a strong position against the trade. The webpage directs readers to our blog.

Link – http://www.spca.org.sg/animalwelfare_food_details.asp?id=760

Partnership with Project: WILD (Singapore)

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We also got in touch with Project: WILD (Singapore) who front a campaign against the use of endangered animals for human consumption. Project: WILD is a well-known presence on social media. In March 2014 they shared our infographics on their Facebook page and 104 people subsequently shared the graphics!

Link – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=783811374982188&set=a.780603065303019.1073741826.399923826704280&type=1&theater

Interview with The Online Citizen

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March 2014 was a great month for the luwaks. With the publishing of “10Q – Project LUWAK SG: Putting some serious shit in your cuppa” by The Online Citizen (TOC), a popular site dedicated to cyber activism in Singapore, outreach for our campaign bumped up several notches and also received attention from a new audience. Thanks Howard Lee from TOC for the feature!

Link – http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2014/03/10q-project-luwak-sg/

Civet talk at Nanyang Girls’ High School

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Civet researcher Xu Weiting (a.k.a. Civetgirl) spoke to 430 Secondary 3 students from Nanyang Girls’ High School on 2 May 2014. The girls enjoyed the talk and many were surprised that common palm civets can be found in Singapore! Shocked and dismayed that the kopi luwak trade is inflicting so much pain on these animals, the students paid-it-forward by featuring Project LUWAK Singapore at their school’s Open House on 24 May 2014. Posters were exhibited at the NYGH Backyard and 4 Degrees Cafe to show visitors how each of us can play a part in eliminating civet coffee farms.

Project LUWAK beyond Singapore

Partnership with SPCA Hong Kong

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By collaborating with Jeanna Cheung (SPCA Hong Kong) and Fung Tze Shan (our Singaporean friend), we managed to roll out our infographics in traditional Chinese text, in a bid to bridge the language gap and spread the word!

Linking up with conservationists in Bali, Indonesia

Jonna Lehtinen, a primate conservationist residing in Bali, contacted our team to enquire about the printing and distribution rights of our infographics. She had been interviewed by the local newspaper Bali Advertiser, targeted at expatriates and tourists, about kopi luwak and came across our resource. Jonna is engaging her students in distributing the posters featuring the infographics at various tourist destinations and restaurants in Bali. We look forward to a long-term partnership where word continues to be spread to other parts of Indonesia, such as Jakarta.

Link – http://www.bawabali.com/bawa-news/1-latest-news/217-ethics-in-a-coffee-cup-by-ibu-kat.html

Sharing by animal welfare organisations in other countries

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The power of social media also helped take our movement to other parts of Asia via SPCA Selangor and PETA Asia-Pacific. We are thankful to have friends around the globe who share the same concerns about the kopi luwak industry.

You can help too! Help us further the cause and sign the petition today: http://tinyurl.com/projectluwaksg-pledge. If you have ideas or would like to feature Project LUWAK Singapore in your page or column, feel free to email projectluwaksg@gmail.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Certification: The next big thing for the kopi luwak industry?

By Xu Weiting

Six months ago, the release of the documentary “Our World Coffee’s Cruel Secret – Kopi Luwak” by BBC and Tony Wild, a coffee consultant (and also coincidentally, the first person who brought kopi luwak to the West), highlighted the plight of civets in the kopi luwak trade. Following its wide reach and success, animal welfare groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) started their own campaigns to raise awareness of as well as call for action against the cruelty in the kopi luwak trade.

On the other hand, there are reports explaining the flip side of the story – that not all kopi luwak is cage-sourced. One example is from the Jakarta Post, entitled “Luwak coffee: From animal welfare to national heritage” published end Oct 2013. This article emphasized that “authentic luwak coffee is not produced in that manner. Greed has turned some businesspeople to engage in farming civet cats to produce luwak coffee”. It also highlighted that kopi luwak “is not only giving us national source of pride through a delicacy but also independent economic solutions for the people.”

The article concluded that as kopi luwak is part of Indonesia’s cultural heritage, solutions are necessary to preserve this heritage in order to help small scale farmers and ensure the protection of the natural environment.

In April 2014, Tony Wild announced on his Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap Facebook page that there will be discussions between the Government of Indonesia and The Specialty Coffee Association of Europe which may potentially result in the certification system of genuine wild-sourced kopi luwak.

Tony wild

Taken from Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap Facebook page

We are definitely looking forward to the day where consumers can enjoy kopi luwak with the assurance that their cuppa is 100% wild-sourced without fears of mislabeling. In the meantime, Project LUWAK SG will continue with our efforts in education and outreach to raise awareness of the cruelty behind kopi luwak from caged civets. Do join us!

Behind the scenes at a kopi luwak farm in Bali

By Pearlynn Sim

When I found out that my family and I were going to visit a coffee plantation in Bali, Indonesia, my first thought was that it was a ripe opportunity for some detective work. Bali, like Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, is well known for kopi luwak. I was curious to see what the tour would be like.

On the day of the tour, when we expressed interest in visiting a coffee plantation, our driver began telling us about kopi luwak excitedly – how exquisite it tastes, how unique it is and all. One of the staff at the coffee plantation then brought us around and explained the origins of kopi luwak. We were also shown civet poop with coffee beans, and how the coffee beans are processed.

Coffee beans being processed.

Coffee beans excreted by the luwaks being processed.

Following that, it was a tour of the coffee plantation. Coffee plants among other crops were pointed out and finally I saw what caused my heart to drop despite all the mental preparation.

Luwaks kept in small cages, side-by-side.

Caged civets.

Oblivious to my look of shock, we were enthusiastically introduced to the civet (or luwak) in the cage in front of us. The cage was about 6 by 8 feet. Aside from a metal bowl with water in the corner, there was nothing else. Civets are solitary and territorial animals, normally found on trees, so being in close proximity to other individuals – such as in farms – would be stressful.

In total I saw some six caged civets on the premises that visitors had access to. Two were kept separately but within sight of each other (the cages above). The other four were kept together – two in a fairly large cage and two in poor conditions (rusty and small cage). It was a cage of about 2 feet by 1.5 feet, even more cramped than what I had seen initially.

caged luwak

caged luwak

caged luwak

To find out more, I asked if the caged civets were farmed for kopi luwak. She insisted that the kopi luwak they sell are all wild-sourced. Upon asking what the civets were fed, she replied, “Fruits such as bananas and apples”.

We were then herded to a pavilion where we were allowed to taste the various coffees before purchasing the ones we liked. This excluded kopi luwak which was ‘pay-before-you-try’. We gave that a miss.

"Collected from the forest floor"?

“Collected from the forest floor”?

At the gift shop, a wide array of coffees were for sale, including kopi luwak. The sales representative was visibly disappointed at our lack of enthusiasm but tried to promote the boxes of kopi luwak which she said make good gifts.

"Collected from the forest floor"?

One brand of kopi luwak on sale (260 000 Indonesian Rupiah = approximately 30 Singapore Dollars).

While my experience suggests that this coffee plantation may be farming civets for kopi luwak, I must emphasize that I do not have any concrete evidence (and am thus not pointing fingers). This write-up was purely intended to share my experience in Bali, highlight how rampant kopi luwak is over there, and hopefully give readers some food for thought.

Wild-sourced kopi luwak is roasted from the coffee beans pooped out by wild civets which pick only the best coffee beans to supplement their diet. Farmed civets are fed a diet of only coffee beans, so without any choice in the coffee beans, would the quality not drop? Many buy this coffee on the assumption that it tastes better, but with farmed kopi luwak these days, how true is that?

Animal welfare aside, perhaps think about that if the thought of purchasing that very expensive cup of kopi luwak ever crossed your mind.

 

Why avoid Kopi Luwak?

By Germaine Leng

Kopi luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world and sells for roughly $420 per pound. Some claim that the coffee beans that have gone through the civet’s digestive system have a nice and smooth after-taste but others claim that it is likely to be just a marketing gimmick.

Before you purchase a cup, do you know what exactly goes on behind the production scene of kopi luwak?

Coffee beans from wild civet droppings. Image by Jaz Aznar (The New York Times).

Many companies state that their kopi luwak are “genuine and wild”. Genuine wild-sourced kopi luwak beans are harvested from the droppings of wild civets after they pass out undigested coffee beans. This can only be done by tracing the steps of a civet. However, as the demand and value of kopi luwak increases, more people have taken to keeping captive civets to ensure a high and reliable supply of civet coffee.

What’s wrong with keeping captive civets to produce kopi luwak?

Firstly, civets have to be caught from the wild. As the demand for kopi luwak increases, poachers are trapping large number of civets and are thus, threatening the wild population of civets. Previously, only the common palm civet was trapped and used in the production of kopi luwak, but this has now extended to all kinds of civets.

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Captive civet kept in a poor condition cage. Image by surtr (Wikimedia Commons).

Secondly, civets that are caught are then confined to small battery cages. To minimize the space required, cages are stacked on top of each other. This is problematic on several levels. Civets are shy and solitary animals that spend their days sleeping in dense vegetation and foraging at night.

Having so many civets in such a small area causes stress and may result in stereotypical behaviour such as pacing, fights and even paw gnawing. The cages that they are kept in are also bare and they do not have a suitable place to rest in the day.

Caged civet and the yield of kopi luwak beans produced. Image by Kemal Jufri (The New York Times).

Thirdly, to increase the yield of kopi luwak, captive civets are often fed nothing but coffee beans. In the wild, coffee beans makes up only a small percentage of its diet; they feed mainly on fruits and occasionally, on small animals such as birds, reptiles and insects. This result in captive civets being malnourished; many suffer from fur loss, pass blood out in their faeces and will eventually die.

Besides the lack of essential nutrients, the amount of caffeine that a captive civet is forced to eat amounts up to 125 espresso shots. That is 25 times more daily intake of caffeine that a healthy human adult is advised to take.

Because of the un-natural condition civets are kept under to produce kopi luwak, civets have a lifespan of about over a year, when in the wild, they can live up to an average of 20 years.

The truth behind the expensive gourmet coffee is indeed ugly and there is no way of telling whether the kopi luwak that you are going to buy comes from wild or captive civets. Demand for any kind of kopi luwak will only spur people to capture more civets to produce the coffee beans that people crave for. You can do your part for the civets by boycotting kopi luwak and spreading awareness!

Rags to Riches: Origins of Kopi Luwak

By Henrietta Woo

In the market of specialty coffees (think Jamaican Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona and what have you), there lies a niche in a league of its own. These are the ‘animal poop coffees’ and while hearing their source of processing may often make one pause, they have since become some of the most expensive coffees in the world.

Luxury coffee. Image from The Coffee Locator.

Luxury coffee. Image from The Coffee Locator.

Most famous of these coffees is kopi luwak, also known by its other names of civet coffee, crap coffee, and 麝香猫咖啡 (shè xiāng māo kā fēi). Kopi luwak refers to the coffee made from beans that have passed through the gut of the luwak or common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). Civets are believed to select and feed on prime coffee cherries. The stones (i.e. the coffee beans) pass through their system undigested. These prized coffee beans are then recovered in their droppings (i.e. poop) and are given a thorough cleaning before they reach consumers hankering for something novel. But how did this all start?

Much like the humble beginnings of say, ratatouille from France and closer to home, bean sprouts with salted fish, kopi luwak was a poor man’s food. First brought into the west as a curiosity by Tony Wild in 1991 after he read a brief description of it in National Geographic some ten years earlier, kopi luwak was suddenly catapulted into international fame and there began its rag-to-riches story. It is necessary to delve a little into the history of coffee to understand the origins of kopi luwak. Though there are over a hundred species in the Coffea genus of which coffee belongs, only three species are commercially grown to produce the ubiquitous beverage. In order of market share, these are arabica (Coffea arabica), robusta (C. canephora) and liberica (C. liberica). Endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia, southeastern Sudan and northern Kenya, C. arabica somehow found its way to Yemen and from there, the Dutch East India Company brought it to the Dutch colony of Java in the 1690s. Most, if not all, accounts point to the ‘discovery’ of kopi luwak during the mid-nineteenth century when the Cultivation System (or “cultuurstelsel” in Dutch) came into force. During this period, it became mandatory for a portion of agricultural production to be set aside for export crops. Ironically, by prohibiting any picking of coffee cherries for personal consumption, the Dutch inadvertently piqued the curiosity of native farmers and plantations workers who wanted a taste of this much sought-after cash crop.

Wild civet eating coffee cherries

Wild civet eating coffee cherries. Image from Hungry House.

Enter the luwak: locals soon learned civets were slipping into plantations and eating coffee cherries. Instead of perceiving it as a problem, however, they realised that their desire to drink coffee could be satisfied by harvesting the beans that lay undigested in civets’ droppings. Kopi luwak was born, and word of this soon got out to the Dutch plantation owners. Hard to come by and only available in small quantities, wild-sourced kopi luwak already fetch a premium then. These days, however, kopi luwak is no longer rare, depending on caged civets to provide a ready supply. Farming civets is a quick and dirty method to boost supply and the high price tag – supposedly reflecting its rarity – continues to profit traders who want to cash in. Caught from the wild and put into small cages alongside other civets, these naturally solitary animals eventually succumb to stress, if they don’t die from caffeine overdose first.

Civet caged for poop coffee

Civet caged to make poop coffee. Image from Fat Nancy’s New Diet.

Though it is wild-sourced kopi luwak that is rare nowadays, the story pumped to the masses remains unchanged, allowing the vicious cycle to continue. Yuck factor aside, if made the old-fashioned way, I’d say let kopi luwak live on. Otherwise, in the words of Tony Wild, who now runs a campaign against kopi luwak, it’s time to cut the crap.

Find out how you can help at http://projectluwaksg.wordpress.com/support.