Ele­phant ‘can­teen’ eas­ing ten­sions

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI XINYI in Kun­ming and YANG WANLI in Beijing

A “can­teen” for wildlife in South­west China’s Yun­nan prov­ince will be ex­panded to re­duce fric­tion be­tween vil­lagers and wild ele­phants that eat crops due to a food short­age.

The “can­teen”, named Lian­hu­atang, was set up in 2008 in Mengyang, part of the Xishuang­banna Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve in south­ern Yun­nan. It will be ex­panded to 67 hectares, or dou­ble its cur­rent size, ac­cord­ing to the Lian­hu­atang Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In the past two months, 12 cam­eras have taken more than 12,000 pic­tures and nearly 1,300 videos show­ing that wild Asian ele­phants, sambar deer and boars have come for meals at the “can­teen”.

“Our sur­veil­lance shows that the ‘can­teen’ is wel­comed by the ele­phants. Af­ter we pro­vided the food source, ele­phants paid many fewer vis­its to farm­land, and their con­flicts with farm­ers have been eased in re­cent years,” said Guo Xian­ming, deputy di­rec­tor of the nat­u­ral re­serve’s re­search in­sti­tute.

Sta­tis­tics from the ad­min­is­tra­tion show that China has fewer than 300 wild Asian ele­phants, a na­tion­ally pro­tected species, all of which live in the Xishuang­banna Dai autonomous pre­fec­ture. Their pop­u­la­tion is now less than that of gi­ant pan­das.

An adult Asian ele­phant usu­ally weighs be­tween 3 and 5 tons and con­sumes 150 to 200 kilo­grams of food each day, ac­cord­ing to Guo.

Ac­cord­ing to the Xishuang­banna forestry bureau, 153,000 cases in­volv­ing con­flicts be­tween wild an­i­mals and lo­cal peo­ple were recorded from 1991 to 2010. Most in­volved wild ele­phants. A to­tal of 33 peo­ple died and 165 were in­jured in the con­flicts, re­sult­ing in a fi­nan­cial loss of 270 mil­lion yuan ($39.8 mil­lion).

In July 2013, a cou­ple in Wan­jiaoshan vil­lage in Xishuang­banna were at­tacked by a group of wild ele­phants, and the wife was killed.

Wang Hong­bin, a vil­lager in Meng­ban town of Xishuang­banna, said some farm­ers used to broad­cast loud mu­sic to drive the ele­phants away. “It worked in the be­gin­ning, but soon be­came non­threat­en­ing to the ele­phants. And our sound equip­ment was all stomped on by them,” he said.

A lack of food is the root of the prob­lem. Ac­cord­ing to Guo, the amount of the ele­phants’ fa­vorite food — plume grass — has dropped be­cause of the ex­pan­sion of some in­va­sive plants.

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