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Elephant 'canteen' easing tensions

By LI XINYI/YANG WANLI | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-15 06:29

A "canteen" for wildlife in Southwest China's Yunnan province will be expanded to reduce friction between villagers and wild elephants that eat crops due to a food shortage.

The "canteen", named Lianhuatang, was set up in 2008 in Mengyang, part of the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in southern Yunnan. It will be expanded to 67 hectares, or double its current size, according to the Lianhuatang National Nature Reserve Administration.

In the past two months, 12 cameras have taken more than 12,000 pictures and nearly 1,300 videos showing that wild Asian elephants, sambar deer and boars have come for meals at the "canteen".

"Our surveillance shows that the 'canteen' is welcomed by the elephants. After we provided the food source, elephants paid many fewer visits to farmland, and their conflicts with farmers have been eased in recent years," said Guo Xianming, deputy director of the natural reserve's research institute.

Statistics from the administration show that China has fewer than 300 wild Asian elephants, a nationally protected species, all of which live in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture. Their population is now less than that of giant pandas.

An adult Asian elephant usually weighs between 3 and 5 tons and consumes 150 to 200 kilograms of food each day, according to Guo.

According to the Xishuangbanna forestry bureau, 153,000 cases involving conflicts between wild animals and local people were recorded from 1991 to 2010. Most involved wild elephants. A total of 33 people died and 165 were injured in the conflicts, resulting in a financial loss of 270 million yuan ($39.8 million).

In July 2013, a couple in Wanjiaoshan village in Xishuangbanna were attacked by a group of wild elephants, and the wife was killed.

Wang Hongbin, a villager in Mengban town of Xishuangbanna, said some farmers used to broadcast loud music to drive the elephants away. "It worked in the beginning, but soon became nonthreatening to the elephants. And our sound equipment was all stomped on by them," he said.

A lack of food is the root of the problem. According to Guo, the amount of the elephants' favorite food-plume grass-has dropped because of the expansion of some invasive plants.

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