Locals in Yunnan trained on Asian elephant awareness

Residents advised on how to deal with mammals if they enter inhabited areas

By CHEN LIANG in Mengla, Yunnan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-28 08:40
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Editor's note: As protection of the planet's flora, fauna and resources becomes increasingly important, China Daily is publishing a series of stories to illustrate the country's commitment to safeguarding the natural world.

A group of Asian elephants forage for food at a rice field in Jiangcheng county, Yunnan province, in July. CHEN XINBO/XINHUA

On just the second day after arriving in Mengla county in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province, Ma Chenyue and her colleagues received word that a group of 43 wild Asian elephants had been sighted near a village some 60 kilometers from Mengla's county seat. These majestic animals, the largest land mammals in Asia, were spotted foraging in corn fields.

Ma, program manager of the International Fund for Animal Welfare China, and her team were eager to witness firsthand the elephants' expansion into areas inhabited by humans.

After reaching the location of the sighting the following morning, however, the conservationists found that the elephants had already completed their nocturnal feast and retreated into the forest to rest beneath the canopy.

"What we saw was just a field of 'harvested' corn," Ma said.

Cao Dafan, program officer at IFAW China's Asian elephant protection program, estimated the field to be over 2 hectares, or four soccer pitches. "It took the herd of elephants just a single night to clear the corn from this plot," Cao said.

Ma and Cao journeyed to Mengla to participate in the launch of a collaborative project between the county forestry and grassland bureau and IFAW China on May 10. The initiative, named the Human-Elephant Conflict Prevention Community Ranger Network, aims to further enhance the capabilities of local personnel engaged in Asian elephant monitoring.

Another goal is to increase awareness of safe behavior among locals who are faced with elephants coming into the areas in which they live.

As many as 50 people took part in the inaugural training session, including 16 dedicated wild Asian elephant watchers.

"By monitoring the movements of Asian elephants around the clock seven days a week, they stand at the forefront of conservation efforts and are both the targets and operators of our project," Ma said.

Since 2000, IFAW China has been actively involved in the protection of Asian elephants in Yunnan. In 2020, a collaboration with the forestry and grassland bureau in Jinghong city, Xishuangbanna, led to the inception of the Human-Elephant Conflict Prevention Community Ranger Network project. Mengla now serves as the project's second base in Xishuangbanna.

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