China strengthens efforts to protect Asian elephants

Aerial photo taken on Aug 13, 2021 shows a herd of wild Asian elephants in Mojiang county of Pu'er city, Southwest China's Yunnan province. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

KUNMING-Tang Zhengfang, a farmer from the Jinning district of Kunming, capital of Southwest China's Yunnan province, has been longing for some special friends-a herd of Asian elephants which he met by chance a year ago.

In March 2020, a herd of 15 wild Asian elephants left a forest nature reserve in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, and trekked some 500 kilometers northward to Kunming in June 2021. During that time, Tang contacted the local government to donate some 5 metric tons of corn to feed them.

"Hearing that the elephants were wandering near our village, I was quite excited, but also worried that they wouldn't have enough to eat in the forest nearby," the 50-year-old recalled.

These Asian elephants returned to their original habitat in the Mengyang area of Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve on Dec 9,2021, where they have remained. The elephants occasionally forage at the edge of the forest and live in harmony with surrounding communities, according to the management bureau of the nature reserve.

"I am pleased to know that they have enough food to eat and that the local government has strengthened protection for them. I hope to have a chance to visit them," Tang said.

The management bureau of the reserve said that monitoring data showed that the baby elephants born during the northward journey are growing up healthily and finding their independence. In January, another baby elephant was born at the reserve. Since then, the herd has moved deep into the forest in Mengyang and is rarely seen.

Chen Fei, director of the Asian elephant research center of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, said that the efforts made by the Chinese government and local residents have served as a vivid example of China's determination to promote harmony between humans and nature, providing a warmhearted example for global wildlife conservation.

"Helping the herd go home didn't mean the end of our efforts. There is still a long way to go to protect Asian elephants and their habitats," said Chen, adding that Asian elephants were included in the list of 48 critically endangered species under emergency protection during China's 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25).

Although the Asian elephant population is declining worldwide, their population in China, mostly in Yunnan, has grown from 180 to around 300 thanks to protection efforts over the past 30 years, and this number continues to grow.

By strengthening habitat protection and restoration, conservationists continue to improve the quality of their habitat and strengthen the construction of monitoring and early warning, safety and emergency response systems so as to minimize human-elephant conflicts.

Meanwhile, authorities are accelerating the process of building a rainforest national park for Asian elephants to better coordinate trans-regional ecological protection, study and protection for the species and its habitat.