• Ecology
Elephant S.O.S.
Text and photographs by Jia Daitengfei


Xiong Chaoyong, deputy head of the Asian Elephant Breeding and Rescue Center, with an elephant friend. Having been involved in Asian elephant protection for more than 16 years, Xiong believes that Asian elephants are very intelligent mammals.  An employee at the Asian Elephant Breeding and Rescue Center showers off a calf who has just returned from searching for food in the wild. The lovely creature, named Ming Ming, is usually the quiet type. However, if it gets excited, it can turn very naughty.

In the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture is the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in southern Yunnan Province. Despite its relatively limited area of less than 250,000 hectares, the reserve is home to one quarter of China’s wild animal species and a fifth of its wild plant species. The nature reserve is warm, humid and rainy all year round, gifting the area tremendous biodiversity and China’s best-preserved tropical rainforest at a comparatively high latitude and altitude.  

An abundance of rare animals inhabits the tropical rainforest, of which the wild Asian elephant is the most famous species. The flagship animal even won Xishuangbanna the reputation of being the “elephant prefecture” in ancient China. Today, the world’s two major species of elephants are distinguished by their native continents: Asia and Africa. With an estimated wild population of between 30,000 and 50,000, the Asian elephant is distributed across 13 Asian countries, including China. Statistics show that about 300 wild Asian elephants lived in China in 2015, of which 250 were located in Xishuangbanna. Wild Elephant Valley, one specific scenic spot in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, is home to about 70.


Observation and Protection

On an ordinary day in July 2016, it was stiflingly hot despite the towering trees shielding people from the sun’s direct rays. The light still filtered through the dense branches and leaves.

“Keep silent,” whispered Yan Hanlu, head of the Asian Observation and Protection Center. “Don’t make a sound.”

Yan then pointed towards a group of wild Asian elephants relaxing and drinking from a river just 20 meters away.

He quickly scribbled a note reading, “At 11:30 a.m., 26 wild Asian elephants were spotted: one adult male, five adolescent males, four calves, ten adult females and six adolescent females.” He was so thrilled to see such a large group that his writing was especially illegible.

Wild Elephant Valley, located in the Mengyangzi section of the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, first launched efforts to protect the wild Asian elephant in the late 1980s. Then, governmental agencies began placing salt at river banks the elephants frequented. Wild elephants need salt and other minerals that are often hard to come by in their natural environment.



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