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China defuses human-elephant conflicts

(Xinhua)    16:50, August 19, 2020

In recent years, conflicts between wild elephants and humans continue to worsen, with the giant animals breaking into residential areas, eating crops, damaging houses and threatening people's lives. In addition, The lives of wild elephants are often in danger.

While continuously strengthening the protection of wild Asian elephants, the Chinese government has rolled out measures, such as constructing prevention projects, carrying out monitoring and building food bases for the endangered species, to solve the dilemma of human-elephant conflicts.

HUMAN-ELEPHANT CONFLICTS

Asian elephants are under Class-A protection in China and are mainly scattered in Xishuangbanna and Pu'er, southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Since 1958, Yunnan has established 11 national or regional-level nature reserves in the tropics, covering a total area of about 510,000 hectares, providing the Asian elephants shelter.

The data released by the Yunnan Forestry and Grassland Administration (YFGA) showed that thanks to strengthening ecological conservation, the population of wild Asian elephants in Yunnan increased from 170 to about 300 over the past three decades.

The increasing canopy density led to the succession of plants. Food for elephants such as wild bananas and steamed rice dumpling leaves were gradually replaced by woody plants, said Chen Mingyong, a professor with the Asian elephant research center of Yunnan University.

"When they can't get enough food, elephants will seek nourishment outside the reserves, making conflicts with humans unavoidable," Chen said, adding that about two-thirds of wild elephants are living outside the reserves now.

In the village where Aibian lives, 18 wild Asian elephants are uninvited guests.

Aibian's village is located in Menghai County, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. "When crops such as corn and sugar cane are about to mature, wild elephants come to the fields and eat," the 58-year-old man said.

Elephants also break into residential areas, sometimes destroying villagers' houses and steal food and salt. When elephants enter the village, the villagers can only hide in houses with more than two stories to avoid being trampled by the giant creatures.

According to official data, from 2011 to 2019, there were more than 4,600 accidents involving wild Asian elephants in Xishuangbanna, resulting in more than 50 casualties, over 8,000 hectares of damaged crops and more than 100 million yuan in insurance compensation.

LIVING IN HARMONY

Human-elephant conflicts are common in Asian countries such as India and Thailand, said Chen, adding that China's efforts to protect Asian elephants are becoming more and more effective.

In 2017, in order to prevent wild elephants from entering the village, the local nature reserve built a fence in Xiangyanqing Village.

A steel pipe fence more than two meters high has been built around the whole village, setting small doors suitable for personnel to pass through.

With the fence, elephants have never entered the village again. "Elephants often pass by from a distance, but they can't get in now, allowing us to sleep soundly now," villager Wang Yan said.

In China, people's lives and safety are the top priorities for the government, and so do the elephants.

Wild elephants used to frequent Wang's village. When Wang was a child, her family members often took turns guarding the crops, for at least two months a year.

"When wild elephants come, we only tried to chase them away, but never hurt them," Wang said.

Yunnan has purchased commercial wild animal insurance covering the entire province. When elephants cause trouble, villagers could get compensation from insurers.

Meanwhile, Xishuangbanna has started to build food bases and plant bananas and bamboo across the prefecture to create a better habitat for the elephants. Until 2020, Xishuangbanna has a land area of about 553.3 hectares for planting these crops.

Monitoring and early warning have also been of great help. Since 2016, Menghai County has used drones to comprehensively monitor elephants and released real-time early warning information through mobile apps, such as WeChat.

The early warning system has helped locals successfully avoid 380 risks and prevented more than 400 people from encountering wild elephants head-on.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Shi Xi, Liang Jun)

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