An elephantine task in villages

2020-08-14 Xinhua Editor:Gu Liping

On a summer evening, a giant shadow showed up on a village concrete road in southwest China's Yunnan Province. Pu Zongxin knew it was Laoda -- a male wild elephant that often wanders nearby.

Holding a flashlight, Pu moved forward and spotted the tusker some 20 meters away from where the road turned. He tiptoed to avoid disturbing the big animal, breathed a sigh of relief when he retreated to a safe distance, and shared a message on the elephant's whereabouts online, warning villagers to stay alert.

Pu, 49, is an Asian elephant monitor in Menghai County, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, tasked with the safety of elephants and people and avoid conflicts between them.

Asian elephants are among China's top-level protected animals. There are some 300 of them living in the wild, mainly in Yunnan's Xishuangbanna prefecture and the city of Pu'er.

Wednesday marks World Elephant Day.

With the help of a drone, Pu and his colleagues track wild elephants and upload at least one to two warning messages on the early-warning platform for Asian elephants as well as social networking sites every day, without taking a holiday.

"Every time we send such a message, we are likely to help avoid one more conflict between wild elephants and humans," Pu told Xinhua.

While talking, he noticed a car headlight right behind the elephant, followed by a screeching sound.

"The driver slammed the brakes in time. Otherwise, the elephant would have panicked," said Xiang Zhijie, Pu's colleague and drone operator.

The monitors did not call it a day until 11:30 p.m. when no vehicles or people could be seen. "We have to guard the place where elephants are spotted and notify villagers to stay at home."

Pu was born into a local forest workers' family and became a forest ranger in 2009. He started monitoring wild elephants in 2015 and has become familiar with the giant mammals.

"The most naughty one is Laosan, who has damaged nearly 50 vehicles," he said.

Better protection efforts in recent years have led to more elephants wandering the area, putting monitors like Pu under stress.

Last year, at least three people were killed in elephant attacks in the prefecture.

In late February, when Pu and his colleagues were monitoring 13 wild Asian elephants round the clock nearby, they found one of them had intruded into the entertainment room of a village where two children were present. The kids were rescued by them.

At 6 a.m., Pu was on duty again to locate Laoda. Based on footprints and the fresh excrement, he understood the elephant was near. "We have to find him before villagers are out farming."

While walking, he picked up some sugarcane and corn scattered around. "The buddy is smart. He only consumes the tender parts of plants, and while eating, his trunk is even more flexible than our mouth," he said.

The drone took off and soon spotted the large-eared giant in the tea field, throwing soil on his back with his long trunk. Pu then put up a bulletin board, saying "an elephant is nearby. No passing."

Local villager Wang Guangxin, who was heading to the farmland on a motorcycle, was stopped by Pu.

"If it were not for the monitors, I would bump into the elephant," he said.

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