The wild elephants in China are seeing a strong increase in numbers and afforded the highest protections while the population of their African cousins are plummeting at alarming rates, driven largely by China's demand for ivory.
In China, deep in the forests bordering Burma and Laos, live a few hundred wild Asian elephants. Over the last two decades, in the ‘Wild Elephant Valley’ of the Yunnan province, their numbers have almost doubled, largely due to effective feeding, protection and education programmes. China also applies the death penalty to anyone caught poaching an elephant. It’s irony at its best- that China’s wild elephant population is given the highest protections and is increasing in number, while the African elephant population continues to plummet, driven mainly by China's demand for ivory. At the Xishuangbanna and Nangunhe nature reserves in the country's south-west, the elephants roam free in a terrain filled with picturesque hills, valleys, and rainforest. Some herds come in from the Laos border, and they thrive in the forest that has served well in protecting them. Although they’ve seen conservation successes, their integrity has been questioned due to the circus that's directly tied to the centre, where elephants are forced to perform tricks for tourists, including kicking footballs, dancing to ‘disco’ and forming elephant pyramids. Animal welfare practices aren't the only threat to this seemingly thriving population of elephant. Rubber plantations have also caused significant habitat loss, pushing elephants out from their territories. In recent times, elephants have been found wandering out into villages in search of food. These, however, are probably relatively more manageable issues compared to the graver poaching crisis that affects these elephants' cousins in Africa.
As China tracks towards the end of 2017, when the ivory trade will be completely banned, we see a change in the tides and increasingly more people aware that ivory means the death of an elephant. And hopefully China will view the way their elephants are protected vis-a-vis the poaching of African elephants caused by their greed for ivory, so that the message revealed will be clear: that any elephant, no matter where they’re from, should be treated with respect, protected, and never, ever killed for its tusks.