Across China: From conflict to harmony, villagers in SW China seeking coexistence with elephants-Xinhua

Across China: From conflict to harmony, villagers in SW China seeking coexistence with elephants

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2023-08-01 17:07:15

KUNMING, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- It's time for afternoon tea. Yang Niu, a female elephant, rushed over with excitement, making a sudden stop in front of visitors, and waiting to enjoy the feast.

"Don't worry. Although Yang Niu does things with great haste, she would never crash against you," Chen Jiming, a ranger in Xishuangbanna Asian Elephant Rescuing and Breeding Center in southwest China's Yunnan Province, told tourists with a smile. Yang Niu is now 1.9 meters tall, 1.4 tonnes in weight, and is about to turn eight this year, the age of a juvenile human being.

Watching the elephant contentedly eating freshly-cut carrots, it may be hard for one to imagine that it was once an "abandoned baby" rescued by the villagers.

The calf was found abandoned on August 17, 2015, near a village in Pu'er city when it was not in good form. "Lying outside a warehouse, it was only 76 kilograms in weight," Chen recalled, adding that a healthy newborn calf is normally about 100 kilograms.

Villagers gave the feeble calf water and food immediately before contacting the rescue center. Knowing that the calf needed milk, a villager brought three goats from 100 kilometers away. The elephant was born in the Year of the Goat, and fed with goat milk, so villagers called it dearly, "Yang Niu," which means "goat girl" in Chinese.

Wang Bin, director of the protection and management center of Asian elephants, told Xinhua that Yang Niu was rescued thanks to the raised awareness of villagers in animal protection. The view was shared by Dai Zhenhua, a senior journalist with the Yunnan Daily who has reported on wild elephants for a long time.

"The conflict between elephants and human beings here was serious more than a decade ago when the animal ruined crops and attacked people," Dai recalled. "Villagers dislike elephants and would chase them away or even injure them."

Academic journal, the Issues of Forestry Economics, carried an article in 2020 detailing the great economic losses by elephants in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, putting the number of grain losses to about 44,530 tonnes between 1991 and 2004, while that of sugar cane to about 60,000 tonnes. From 1991 to 2008, more than 140 people were attacked by wild elephants, including multiple casualties.

Asian elephants, a pivotal species in the rainforest ecosystem, are under first-class national protection in China. The elephants are mostly found across Yunnan.

Although its population is declining worldwide, the population of the endangered species in China has grown from 150 in the 1980s to 360 at present, thanks to protection efforts over the past decades.

Statistics showed that up to two-thirds of wild Asian elephants have wandered out of the nature reserve, leading to more contact with humans.

In response to possible losses, Yunnan raised the compensation standard for the crops more prone to be consumed by elephants. Such compensation will help protect the interests of farmers. During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), some 297 million yuan (about 41.6 million U.S. dollars) was paid in the province to cover the losses caused by wildlife, mainly Asian elephants.

In 2010, Yunnan became the first provincial-level region in China to introduce commercial insurance for the damage caused by wildlife, with the entire province coming under insurance coverage by 2014.

"With the compensation, villagers are no longer angered by the wild animals seeking food on farms, so that relationship between human beings and elephants is improved," said Wang Bin, adding that now villagers seeing injured elephants would call the rescuers, as what happened to Yang Niu, instead of chasing them away.

The prefecture has also established a monitoring and warning system to inform villagers of the whereabouts of wild animals in the form of WeChat messages, text messages, and broadcasting. In Menghai County alone, nearly 60 possible conflicts between human beings and wild elephants were avoided.

The wandering elephants in 2021 have caught global attention, which showed the harmonious coexistence of human beings and the wild animal.

For Ranger Chen Jiming, such harmony is quite normal nowadays. A couple of days ago, they received a phone call from local villagers, who told them two elephant calves needed help in a muddy pond. They arrived immediately, only to find that the elephants were trying to cool down in the hot weather.

"Although it was a false alarm, it showed villagers' love and care for elephants," he said. "We will continue spreading the knowledge about wild elephants to the public so that local people would know more about the animal."