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Tolerance of roaming elephants seen as lesson for Africa

Updated:2021-06-16 10:32:07   China Daily

The wandering Asian elephants halt their trek to take a nap in Yuxi, Yunnan province, on Monday. YUNNAN FOREST FIRE BRIGADE

The attitude and tolerance exhibited by the Chinese people toward the 15 elephants that have been wandering through Yunnan province is not only fascinating, but offers key lessons for Africa, according to one of the world's leading experts on the animals.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants, a Kenyan-based charity working around the world to protect elephants, said Africa has experienced numerous conflicts between humans and elephants when compared with China. However, the continent can draw lessons from the positive attitude shown by the Chinese people toward the elephants that have trekked more than 500 kilometers from their home in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve since last year.

Douglas-Hamilton said the Chinese have strictly adhered to authorities' instructions to treat the wild animals with respect, avoid getting too close to or teasing them, and not hurt them or forcefully drive them away.

The Chinese public has a humane approach despite the herd causing more than $1 million damage to crops. In contrast, Africa has recorded several cases of communities retaliating for the loss of livestock or crops by trying to kill the offending animals.

According to the Mara Elephant Project, an organization focused on elephant protection in Kenya's Maasai Mara wildlife reserve, human-elephant conflicts in Africa rose from 84 incidents in 2016 to 181 in 2019.

In addition to the reaction toward the elephants, Douglas-Hamilton said their movements are also fascinating.

"It's interesting that the elephants are returning to the direction of their ancestral grounds where they used to live 1,500 years ago," he said.

The scientist said that over the last 5,000 years, elephants ranged far and wide in China and gradually, as human populations increased, they settled in the area of the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve.

The herd is lingering in Shijie township in the city of Yuxi, and a male elephant that recently strayed from the group was about 17.4 kilometers away from the herd, Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday. All 15 elephants are safe and sound, according to the headquarters in charge of monitoring their migration.

Douglas-Hamilton said China has placed high value on its elephants, and he applauded the country's concept of ecological civilization that considers nature to be part of life, rather than something that can be exploited without restraint.

And while China has managed human-wildlife conflicts remarkably well, Douglas-Hamilton said the increasing number of Chinese tourists visiting Africa's national parks and game reserves is an indication that there are lessons that China can learn from the continent.

China's ban on the domestic trade of ivory products introduced at the end of 2017 is also laudable and is a reflection of the country's change of attitude on the protection of African elephants. Douglas-Hamilton said the elephant situation in Kenya has improved over the past five years, adding that Kenya was losing elephants faster than they could reproduce a decade ago.

"China's attitude is largely part of the improvement," he said, adding that China is also collaborating with many international conservation agencies to try to stop illegal trafficking of ivory.

To successfully conserve wildlife in Africa, where the human-wildlife conflict is projected to worsen, Douglas-Hamilton said organizations have to reach out to local communities.

He said the situation of people living next to protected areas and a lack of understanding of conservation are the key challenges facing wildlife protection. The problem can be addressed through job creation.

"I wish to see people who live next to wildlife conservation areas become in the future the experts on conserving wildlife. Local communities need better education, and people's livelihoods are somehow connected with wildlife," he said.

It's unfortunate that some of the people living next to protected areas have never had a chance to appreciate the wildlife due to lack of resources, Douglas-Hamilton said.

"They don't have the privilege of driving a car to safely watch the wild animals. These chances should be given to both children and adults to appreciate the beauty of nature."

However, he appreciated the fact that a growing number of people from local communities are becoming involved with wildlife research and conservation, with some even becoming experts.

Keywords:   Tolerance elephants Africa