An area providing sources of food for Asian elephants is about to open soon in Jinghong, in southwest China's Yunnan province.
It follows the global interest in a herd of elephants which has been roaming through China, with the authorities evacuating more than 150,000 people from their path to protect both herd and humans – with pictures of the elephants' adventures watched round the world.
The protected animals left a nature reserve in Yunnan about 18 months ago and have made an extraordinary 1300km trek, wandering through fields, towns and cities, eating millions of dollars' worth of crops and damaging buildings.
The Asian elephant is an endangered species - China has only a few hundred wild elephants, most living, like the wandering herd, in the south of Yunnan province.
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Now, with a total area of more than 66 hectares, the Jinghong project, costing more than $200,000, is set to supply elephants with a richer variety of food sources and improve their habitat, an official with the local forestry and grassland bureau said. The area has been planted mainly with the bamboo-like tiger grass and wild banana, the elephants' main food sources.
"The project is expected to help reduce the damage caused to villagers and their crops by the elephants while the animals are wandering in nearby villages in search of food," said the official, Zha Wei.
"The local governments have attached great importance to the protection of wild animals and the ecological environment and the local residents have enhanced their awareness of wild animal conservation, leading to the expansion of the population of Asian elephants."
Zha added that, when the density of Asian elephants reaches a certain level, the animals leave their habitat – lowering the density of elephants in the original habitat as well as indicating that the supply of food there is falling short.
An adult Asian elephant eats 200kg of food each day. With increasing forest coverage in the region, the shrubs and grasslands the elephants prefer have gradually been scaled back – making it harder for the elephants to find sufficient plant resources. This partly explains why the wild Asian elephants have frequently left protected areas and intruded into nearby villages in recent years.
"By building up the area with food sources, we hope to more elephants will stay inside the area so they won't intrude into nearby villages and cause human-elephant conflicts," said Zha. "As long as there are sufficient food supplies, the elephants will be attracted to their natural habitat."
Asian elephants are under first-class state protection in China. There are currently 185 wild Asian elephants in Jinghong, an increase of 105 from the end of the last century, and the population continues to grow. Their distribution area in Jinghong is more than 3500 sq km.