Mammals on the march: Greenpeace touts elephant habitat restoration

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Last week, more than a dozen wild Asian elephants migrating from protected areas walked into villages and cities in northern Yunnan, including the greater Kunming area.

It is unlikely the wild elephants will enter urban Kunming, said Zhang Li, a wildlife biologist specialising in mammal conservation at Beijing Normal University.

To lead the wild elephants to the mountains and away from residential areas, China Central Television reported that emergency teams placed corn, pineapples, and other food where the animals passed.

Statistics found by Shanghai-based publication The Paper show wild Asian elephants caused 41 deaths, 32 injuries, and direct property loss of approximately 210 million RMB (about USD $33 million) between 2013 and 2019.

“Many wild elephants prefer to wander outside rather than staying within the nature reserve,” said Zheng Xuan from the National Nature Reserve Management and Protection Bureau in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan.

Despite lacking a certain explanation for the current herd’s migration, international environmental NGO Greenpeace mentioned habitat loss has been the major challenge for wild Asian elephants over the past four decades.

With rapid economic development and population growth in Yunnan, many lands in and around the natural forests have been converted into cash tree plantations for tea and rubber, according to an article published in research journal Nature’s Scientific Reports. This process has caused both habitat loss and a food shortage for wild elephants.

“The Asian elephant population has increased in the past few years, as poaching has stopped. Increased population in a decreased habitat can drive elephants to venture outwards to search for somewhere suitable,” Pan Wenjing from Greenpeace told China Development Brief in an emailed comment. “So, it is crucial to protect and restore elephants’ natural habitat to meet their living needs, which is also the only way that we can reduce human-elephant conflicts.”