Smartphonecolor coded wristbandss help tame giant forest threat

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With the number of wild Asian elephants growing, people in a prefecture in Yunnan are trying various methods to reduce confrontations, as Yang Wanli and Li Yingqing report from Kunming.

 

Former soldier Yan Hanlu strokes a wild elephant he used to take care of in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture in Southwest China"s Yunnan province. CHENG XUELI/FOR CHINA DAILY

Unlike smartphone addicts who spend hours a day on social media, playing games or watching videos, residents of Basan village are using smartphones to save lives and local incomes.

The safety alerts about wild Asian elephants they spread help prevent injuries and economic losses that can be caused by the roaming rainforest giants.

The village, in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture of southwestern China"s Yunnan province, has witnessed frequent visits by wild Asian elephants in recent years as their numbers have grown. The giant animals, searching for food, sometimes pose a threat to safety.

"Nearly all families in the village had their crops damaged by wild elephants nearby," said villager Huang Zhaowu. "Some were eaten while other crops were trampled. Nothing is left in the farmland, just like a hurricane has swept through it. To a local family, it means the loss of a whole season"s income."

Even more annoying, the elephants sometimes break into villagers" houses at night.

"Some people live in bamboo houses without a steel or wooden door that can be used as a defense," Huang said. "It"s not funny if you are awoken by a wild elephant. They are capable of killing, very easily."

The villagers" options for dealing with the safety threat are limited because the wild Asian elephant is listed as one of China"s top-level protected wild animals due to its limited population-an estimated 300-all living in Yunnan.

Huang said some farmers used to broadcast loud music to drive the elephants away. "It worked in the beginning, but soon became nonthreatening to the elephants," he said. "Then they stomped on all our sound equipment."

An elephant alert alliance was later formed voluntarily in the village. Through text messages, phone calls and social media such as WeChat, a report system has been established. Anyone who notices a wild elephant nearby will spread the alert.

"Tourists are eager to see wild elephants, but we want them to stay in their territory and keep away from us," Huang said.