Villagers' detention reignites elephants row

Updated: 2014-07-25 07:20

By Guo Anfei in Kunming and Zheng Jinran in Beijing (China Daily)

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The detention of six villagers for killing a wild elephant in Yunnan province has brought the growing conflict between residents and the elephants into the spotlight again.

The conflict has been triggered by a struggle for resources amid economic growth.

A wild elephant crushed farmland and destroyed crops in Mengla, a county in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, in August 2007. Villagers fired two shots to scare the animal but found it dead next day. They then ate the elephant.

Although the incident happened seven years ago, its impact is still being felt today.

Yunnan is the last habitat for China's remaining wild elephants and they are protected under wildlife laws.

On July 12, police in Xishuangbanna found the elephant's bones, which had been buried. They arrested six villagers and accused them of killing a rare animal. Ten guns were found on the suspects.

A police officer, who declined to be named, said the village has a history of killing wild animals such as elephants and bears.

Days after the arrests, the son of one of the suspects complained about the threat from the elephants, saying that wild animals, especially elephants and boars, frequently destroy crops, leaving only 30 percent of them for the villagers. However, residents receive little compensation from the authorities.

The man, surnamed Lu, claimed the elephants had destroyed his family by wrecking crops, resulting in the arrest of his father.

In March, a middle-aged woman was trampled to death by a wild elephant as she sprayed insecticide on coffee plants on her land in the city of Pu'er. A month later, a fellow villager was trampled when working his farmland.

Zhang Li, a professor at Beijing Normal University and an expert working on research into wild elephants, said the conflict between the villagers and elephants has resulted from human activity.

The elephant population has been growing slowly, he said, but their natural habitant has been greatly reduced by the conversion of tropical forests into rubber or tea plantations.

In their research, Zhang and his team found that forest areas in Yunnan had been reduced by 3,000 sq km, while areas for rubber plantation had increased by 9,500 sq km.

"The elephants have to feed on the increased farmland, making confrontation between them and villagers inevitable," he said.

The authorities pay at least 5 million yuan ($800,000) annually to insurance companies to compensate villagers for damage caused by wild elephants.

But official data show that between 1991 and 2010 direct economic losses caused by elephants totaled 270 million yuan, while compensation received by villagers was 38.39 million yuan.

Zhang said that to ease the conflict the priority is to protect tropical forests, the elepants' natural habitant, adding that building a natural protection area in Pu'er is also a protective effort for the residents.

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