China Daily

Yunnan courts help resolve elephant disputes

- By CAO YIN in Beijing and LI YINGQING in Kunming Shi Wenzhi contribute­d to this story.

A judicial team formed earlier this year has helped resolve a number of human-elephant conflicts in Southwest China’s Yunnan, a province home to many wild animals, helping to reduce litigation.

Since the team was establishe­d by the Simao District People’s Court in Pu’er, it has helped coordinate among local government­al agencies, insurance companies and other mediators to disburse 600,000 yuan ($88,740) in compensati­on to some 200 farmers who have either been injured by elephants or whose fields have been damaged by the animals, according to Mou Wei, deputy head of the court.

At first, members of the team take on elephant-related cases initiated by residents, and then judges guide mediation services in dealing with those disputes in which litigants have agreed to resolution without recourse to a lawsuit, he added.

On March 28, 86 households from the village of Paozhangsh­an received compensati­on following the team’s mediation. Tuo Wenbing, a corn farmer, was one of them.

He was paid 3,600 yuan in compensati­on after it was confirmed that 0.3 hectares of his cornfields had been damaged by Asian elephants.

“Before, there was nothing I could do when my corn was eaten by elephants,” he said. “It would make me angry, but I couldn’t harm them, because they are protected animals.

“Thanks to mediation, this problem that I’ve had for a long time has been resolved,” he added.

“My financial interests have been guaranteed and the animals have been protected.”

As some villagers have complained about the length of time it takes to obtain compensati­on and that payments are still too low, Mou said that the court is looking more closely into ways to assess the damage, as well as coordinati­ng more closely with insurance companies and local forestry and land department­s.

In addition to keeping the peace between people and elephants, courts in Pu’er city have stepped up efforts to protect the environmen­t and biodiversi­ty in the last few years.

Since 2020, 759 cases of harm to biodiversi­ty were dealt with by courts in the city, which according to Li Hongyun, president of the Intermedia­te People’s Court in Pu’er, shows their “determinat­ion to fight environmen­tal crime with the strictest punishment­s”.

Of the 759 cases, 31 involved rare flora, such as the incense cedar and the red cedar, and 124 focused on wild animals.

In addition to handing out harsher punishment­s to those found guilty of harm to the environmen­t, Pu’er courts have also concluded some 130 civil disputes related to the purchase of forestry resources and to biodiversi­ty in the last two years, and in the process, have encouraged defendants to live more environmen­tally friendly lives, he said.

During the same period, 365 administra­tive cases urging government agencies to perform their duties and tighten supervisio­n of environmen­tal protection were also undertaken by courts, Li said.

In addition, judges have received specialize­d training and dedicated tribunals and panels have been set up to improve the handling of environmen­tal disputes, he added.

At a news conference last month, Yunnan’s governor, Wang Yubo, said that as a place known as a “kingdom of flora and fauna”, the province has always prioritize­d environmen­tal protection.

Wang added that the province will work hard to protect the environmen­t and adopt standards to become a “bellwether of the developmen­t of ecological civilizati­on”. The Chinese concept of ecological civilizati­on involves economic, educationa­l, political, agricultur­al and environmen­tal reforms based around sustainabi­lity.

During the past decade, Yunnan has made significan­t achievemen­ts in environmen­tal protection. The governor pointed out that almost 90 percent of the bodies of water in the province are rated as having good water quality. There has been a 34.5-percent increase in the overall promotion of pollution control and water resource management and some 80 percent of key flora and fauna are now closely protected.

Last year, a herd of 14 Asian elephants that had been roaming wild around the province, causing damage, successful­ly crossed the last natural barrier on their way home to their traditiona­l habitat in Pu’er city.

The herd’s northward trip, which lasted about 18 months, ended without harm to either the animals or to people thanks to the actions of government­al bodies responsibl­e for protecting the elephants.

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