To maintain the only existing group of Asian elephants in South China’s Yunnan province, IFAW strives to sustain the coexistence of human and elephant.
Once widely found across tropical and subtropical Asia, the wild Asian elephant population is estimated to have been declined by almost half since the beginning of the century to around 48,323–51,680, occupying fragmented habitats in 13 range countries. Around 300 of them live in in Yunnan province in southwest China, bordering with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Asian elephants is of cultural significance to the Dai ethnic group in Yunnan. Since 1988, the Asian elephant has been designated a Class I protected animal in China’s Wildlife Protection Law.
Human population growth, rapid urbanization, infrastructure development and commercial agriculture expansion all contribute to habitat loss and fragmentation, the most significant threat to Asian elephants. As Asian elephants’ habitats increasingly overlap with human population areas, their activities inevitably collide with local people. Elephants often destroy crops, damage properties and in some cases even kill people.
IFAW launched the Asian Elephant Protection (AEP) project in 2000, covering Xishuangbanna, Pu’er and Lincang, the three last remaining Asian elephant habitats in Yunnan province. For more than 20 years, the project has been promoting human-elephant coexistence by implementing four strategies:
Support an elephant movement monitoring and warning system to mitigate human-elephant conflict (HEC), while conducting scientific research to inform elephant conservation strategies.
AEP launched China’s first early warning system in Pu’er City to warn of potential threats where Asian elephants’ movements could come across human activity. The system covered 40 communities in four mountain townships that are home to Asian elephants and other wildlife.
In 2016, AEP supported the Asian Elephant Early Warning Monitoring Center in Menghai County of Xishuangbanna to improve its monitoring capabilities, and equipped 20 forest and community rangers with monitoring devices. With real-time alerts covering over 50,000 local residents that share habitats with Asian elephants, the system successfully avoided about 57 human-elephant conflict incidents.
Community Heroes – Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) prevention ranger network
For the past two decades, IFAW has provided HEC prevention trainings to at least 500 township government officials and more than 100,000 local citizens from more than 50 communities in areas affected by elephant activities.
In collaboration with the government in Xishuangbanna, IFAW launched the first HEC prevention ranger network in 2020. IFAW designs a curriculum and trains rangers on how to carry out HEC prevention trainings. Rangers then hold trainings at villages in need throughout the year, providing more in-depth and timely support.
IFAW has been supporting eco-alternative livelihoods for people while building community resilience and tolerance to HEC, so that humans and elephants can coexist.
From 2000 to 2005 IFAW provided microcredit loans to local communities to help them shift to alternative crops that are economically valuable and unfavorable to elephants. The program covered 210 households from seven villages and achieved a 35% average increase in income with a 100% repayment rate.
In 2020, IFAW started a pilot beekeeping project in a village named Daotangqing, which connects elephant habitats with a nature reserve in Xishuangbanna. The 10 households that participated in the project Phase-I where each commit two days every year to support elephant habitat restoration near their village. Eventually, households in the pilot villages will also gradually shift from the traditionally more natural resource-consuming crops such as rubber to crops that can contribute to carbon emission reduction. IFAW will refine and scale up the eco-friendly community development model to cover more areas affected by human-elephant conflict.
Environmental education initiatives to improve community awareness and knowledge of elephant conservation
IFAW collaborated with Xishuangbanna education authorities and local schools to develop the first animal-themed school textbook, “Knowing Elephants,” and a series of courses on Asian elephant protection, reaching more than 30,000 students from at least 60 local schools. IFAW has provided trainings to more than 500 staff and tour guides from scenic spots on how to promote Asian elephant conservation to people visiting Yunnan. Through interactions with the IFAW project, many local communities in Yunnan have regained pride in protecting the Asian elephants in China.
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