China's herd of 14 wandering wild Asian elephants have traveled over 500 km north from their forest home in southern Yunnan's Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, reaching Kunming on June 2.
For over a month, authorities have sent police to escort the herd, evacuated roads to facilitate their passage, and used food to distract them from entering densely populated areas.
As for how to deal with human-elephant conflict, Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, Professor and principal investigator at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, gave his views in an interview.
He said that compared with other countries’ confrontational and aggressive responses which may make elephants angry, China’s current response to elephants is letting them go, monitoring their presence and informing people so as to avoid contact between people and the elephants. When asked whether building more protected areas can be a solution to the human-elephant conflict, Professor Campos-Arceiz said that it is just one part of a much more complex solution. Because elephants have very big home range and they need a big area to move. A family of elephants maybe need 250 square kilometers.
He also said that as there will be conflict whenever there are people and elephants, solving human-elephants conflict is not a black-and-white issue. However, some kind of compromise can be made through strategies or designs to reduce the risks of severe conflict, which is what scientists like Professor Campos-Arceiz do.
“When elephants are nearby, we have to make sure that elephants have enough space to move around, and they can develop the normal behavior and ecology. So what we should aspire is to have a very kind of low-level conflict. But there will always be some amount of conflict.” said Professor Campos-Arceiz.
In his eyes, elephants “important” from an ecological point of view, because they have very strong influence on ecosystems. Besides, they are “intelligent” and very “sentient” because of their emotions, feelings, very complex communication and relationships. Elephants and humans have many common points in our behavior, said Professor Campos-Arceiz.
Speaking of the situation in Xishuangbanna of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Professor Campos-Arceiz said that as there are people everywhere, elephants are close to people. What we need to do is to identify the risk areas, and do a landscape design that prevents contact. And in some places we need to build fences or barriers. “If we can build this kind of a physical separation, then it's okay to be close.” said Professor Campos-Arceiz.