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Wild Elephants in China Struggle to Find a Safe Haven

Apr 28, 2014 04:55 PM EDT
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Amid battles for territory and threats of ivory-hungry poachers, wild elephants in China are struggling to find a safe haven, The New York Times reported.

Thanks to government-financed feeding programs, wildlife education efforts and a strict elephant protection law, the number of Asiatic elephants in Yunnan Province in China has roughly doubled, to nearly 300, over the past 20 years. About 16 to 24 elephants are said to live in the 900-acre preserve.

Local forestry official Chang Zongbo told The New York Times that elephants at the sanctuary have a safe life and plenty to eat. "Once the elephants cross the border from Laos, where hunting is allowed, they never want to go back," he said.

Even with this help, the half-dozen or so elephant families remain threatened. Elephant herds are separated from one another on disconnected preserves, making them unable to breed with one another. A growing human population is also creating conflict, as the beasts have become accustomed to grazing on the sugar cane, rice and pineapples planted by local villagers.

To dissuade the elephants from pillaging their crop, The Times found out that forestry officials have been creating "elephant canteens" planted with corn, bamboo and other foraging favorites.

Elephants generally prefer lowland areas, one expert says, but are forced to higher ground where water is scarce.

"The elephants cannot talk, but we can see that suitable habitats have been shrinking. This can be clearly observed during the dry season, when water runs almost dry and they come out of the forests," associate professor Naris Bhumipakpan, former head of Kasetsart University's Forest Biology Department, told the Bangkok Post.

Not to mention the booming rubber industry is robbing them of Yunnan's rain forests. R. Edward Grumbine, a visiting scientist at the Kunming Institute of Botany, continued to tell The Times that rubber plantations now occupy nearly a quarter of Xishuangbanna, home to more than 90 percent of China's elephants.

Pithak Yingyong, assistant chief of the Ang Lue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary, told the Bangkok Post that the sancutary sees a 10 percent increase in elephant population every year.

"The question is what can we do about it considering the fact that the existing population is already difficult to handle?" he said. 

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