Wild elephants thrive in Yunnan sanctuary

The Asian Elephant Breeding and Rescue Center has rescued 13 wild Asian elephants, 10 of whom are receiving medical care and rehabilitation training at the sanctuary.

A dozen of wild Asian elephants went on a parade and enjoyed a special fruit feast at the Asian Elephant Breeding and Rescue Center in southwest China’s Yunnan Province yesterday, World Elephant Day.

Established in 2008 at the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, a 241,000-hectare rainforest, the center has rescued 13 wild Asian elephants, 10 of whom are still receiving medical care and rehabilitation training at the sanctuary. So far, five elephants have been born.

The animals are under Class-A protection in China and are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species as “Endangered.”

“Enhanced protection has led to a rise in the number of the mammals in recent years,” said Bao Mingwei, an elephant doctor. “In the 1990s, only about 180 wild Asian elephants were living in China, but now the population is estimated to exceed 300.”

In China, wild Asian elephants are scattered in a few regions, with Xishuangbanna one of their primary habitats. However, according to the provincial forestry bureau, wild elephants caused 32 deaths and 159 injuries between 2011 and 2017.

“Population growth, reclamation expansion, and a decrease of habitats for wild elephants are the primary causes for the conflicts,” said Chen Mingyong, a professor at Yunnan University.

A simple digestive system means Asian elephants feel hungry easily. They have to eat about 300 kilograms of plants every day. “If the forests can’t meet their needs, they may risk stepping into farmland to fill their stomachs,” Chen revealed.

The increase in the number of wild Asian elephants in recent years comes with more activity, and an overlap of animal habitats and places of human activities. “Some rivers and valleys have been turned into farmland for rubber, tea, and corn for economic benefits. Infrastructure construction destroys the homes of wildlife animals,” Chen said.

From 1988 to 1993, the local government has invested about 4 million yuan (US$587,000) to relocate 195 households with 1,120 residents within the core areas of Xishuangbanna’s nature reserve.

In 2009, local authorities in border regions of China and Laos signed an agreement to designate an area of about 55,000 hectares on the border to carry out joint protection and gradually expanded the zone to about 200,000 hectares.

This year, staff from the reserve have grown a total of 100 hectares of the elephant’s favorite food, such as bamboo and paper mulberry.

“The elephant canteens provide a safe place for the animals to munch on plants far away from villages where they might come into conflict with humans. Fewer elephants seek food in village crop fields now,” said Wang Bin, a senior engineer from the nature reserve.

Since 2014, Yunnan has purchased commercial wild animal insurance covering the entire province. The government pays the premiums, and the insurers compensate people when wild animals cause trouble.

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