High-tech monitoring keeps track of elephants

By Li Yingqing,zhang Yangfei in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan and Zhang Xiaomin | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-17 07:32
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Li Zhongyun, a forest ranger and elephant observer, patrols mountains in Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture, Yunnan. WANG JING/CHINA DAILY

App allows users to identify and locate animals

At 7:26 pm on Saturday, Li Zhongyun received a message via an app on his phone just after he finished work and arrived home in Yunnan province.

The message stated, "A herd of wild elephants is lingering near the Chengzi-I community in Mengwang village, Menghai county. Please inform villagers who are working outside to be careful."

As the herd was 270 kilometers away, Li, who lives in Longmen village, Mengla, Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture, let out a sigh of relief.

On Saturday, Li, who is a forest ranger and Asian elephant observer, patrolled for 33 km through dense forests along the border between China and Laos.

Xishuangbanna, which borders Laos and Myanmar, has a population of more than 1.3 million and offers protection to 756 types of wild animals and more than 5,000 kinds of higher plants. Such plants have relatively complex or advanced characteristics.

The prefecture is also home to 300 wild Asian elephants-the largest such population in China.

In 1958, a national nature reserve was established in Xishuangbanna. The area under protection at State, prefecture and county levels has expanded from about 240,000 hectares in the 1980s to 415,000 hectares, accounting for more than one-fifth of the prefecture's total area.

In recent years, with increased forest coverage in the reserve and fewer herbs and lianas (climbing plants hanging from trees) for the elephants to eat, the creatures have been seen feeding on farmland more frequently.

To reduce encounters between humans and wild animals, the local authorities launched an app that allows users to identify, locate and track wild elephants.

Li said, "As an elephant observer, I upload information to the system as soon as I spot the animals in the wild."

Click to see live updates of Yunnan's wandering elephants. 

With one click on the app, users can view the location of nearby elephants and make preparations should the animals approach.

Tao Qing, deputy director of the administrative and protection bureau at Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, said work started on the prefecture's wild elephant monitoring and early warning system in November, 2019.

A total of 471 infrared cameras and 142 intelligent broadcasting systems have been installed in protected areas in Jinghong city and Mengla county, along with two sets of video surveillance systems at the Wild Elephant Valley scenic spot, Tao said.

"The system has comprehensively enhanced the capacity and efficiency of the local response to human-elephant conflicts," he added.

In addition, it helps provide an effective scientific basis for better protection and management measures, and supplies reliable, timely, accurate and complete information support for decision-makers at all levels, Tao said.

The authorities in Xishuangbanna have stepped up monitoring of the elephants via drones, video surveillance, infrared cameras and human tracking.

Warning signs have been placed in areas where elephants are active, and designated personnel are on duty to prevent people from entering such locations and to ensure public safety.

Tao said there are now more than 200,000 users of the unmanned aerial vehicle monitoring and early warning platform, and it has over 41,200 followers on WeChat.

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