Grow­ing ele­phant num­bers risk con­flicts

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA in Kun­ming

Niu Minghui is con­cerned about a group of wild Asian ele­phants that pay sur­prise vis­its to steal crops from his back­yard.

One night in June, Niu heard loud noises out­side. Inch­ing the cur­tains open, he saw a mas­sive wild ele­phant ca­su­ally munch­ing on corn that it had stolen from next door.

“I did not dare turn on the lights, and I put my cell­phone on silent,” said Niu, 29, of Shiban vil­lage in Southwest China’s Yun­nan prov­ince.

Niu qui­etly called the vil­lage ele­phant ex­pert who tried to use fire­crack­ers to scare the an­i­mal away, but it didn’t work. In­stead, the ele­phant took about 40 min­utes to eat its stolen corn.

“Maybe he was just too hun­gry,” Niu said. “It is OK if the ele­phants steal a lit­tle food, as long as they do not at­tack.”

Con­flicts be­tween ele­phants and hu­mans are on the rise in Yun­nan.

Ac­cord­ing to the provin­cial forestry bureau, be­tween 2011 and last year, more than 48,000 cases in­volv­ing wild ele­phants re­sulted in 18 deaths, 27 in­juries and eco­nomic losses to­tal­ing about 99 mil­lion yuan ($14 mil­lion). Govern­ment com­pen­sa­tion for the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims to­taled more than 98 mil­lion yuan.

Wild Asian ele­phants are a Class-A pro­tected an­i­mal in China, with their pop­u­la­tion mainly scat­tered across Yun­nan’s Xishuang­banna Dai au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture and in the cities of Pu’er and Lin­cang.

China’s ef­forts to pro­tect the ecosys­tem have helped wild ele­phant num­bers grow from less than 180 in the 1990s to about 300 to­day, but the an­i­mals are still fac­ing ex­tinc­tion, said Yang Yun, head of Xishuang­banna Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“In the past decade, we have tried to raise aware­ness to pro­tect wild Asian ele­phants,” Yang said. “We also worked with sev­eral prov­inces in Laos as part of a cross­bor­der pro­tec­tion pro­gram.”

Chen Mingy­ong, a life sci­ences pro­fes­sor at Yun­nan Univer­sity, said de­spite the grow­ing num­bers, wild ele­phants are still at risk of ex­tinc­tion in China, par­tic­u­larly as vil­lagers of­ten “take re­venge on ele­phants for caus­ing trou­ble”.

Chen Yong, a wildlife pro­tec­tion of­fi­cial in Xishuang­banna, said as ele­phant num­bers grow, con­flicts be­tween the an­i­mals and hu­mans are inevitable.

In 2015, a preg­nant wild ele­phant was shot dead by vil­lagers in Yun­nan af­ter it at­tacked res­i­dents. Two wild ele­phants died the same year af­ter eat­ing crops sprayed with pes­ti­cides.

Li Zhao, head of the forestry bureau in Pu’er, said the city has in­creased in­vest­ment, closed hill­sides, held train­ing ses­sions on ele­phant at­tacks and bought in­sur­ance to help re­duce con­flicts.

“The city pays out more than 16 mil­lion yuan a year for the pro­tec­tion of wild ele­phants and com­pen­sa­tion for dam­age caused by the an­i­mals,” Li said.

Li added that the city is con­sid­er­ing build­ing a na­tional park for wild ele­phants.

The city pays out more than 16 mil­lion yuan a year for the pro­tec­tion of wild ele­phants and com­pen­sa­tion for dam­age caused by the an­i­mals.” Li Zhao, head of the forestry bureau in Pu’er, Yun­nan prov­ince

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