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China and Laos to create cross-border nature reserve

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China and Laos have reached an agreement to create a cross-border reserve to protect endangered Asian elephants and other protected species, according to a Xinhua report.

The new 54,700 hectare reserve will consist of 31,300 hectares in Yunnan's Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous region and 23,400 hectares in Luangnamtha province in Laos.

In addition to providing roaming space for China's last wild elephant herd – which now numbers around 400 elephants – the reserve will also feature protected cross-border corridors that will provide safe passage for the animals. Development of the corridors will be funded by the Asian Development Bank.

It is estimated that there are less than 30,000 Asian elephants left in Southeast and South Asia. The five-ton animals need to consume roughly 300 kilograms of food daily, which requires a significant amount of wandering space.

In recent years, Asian elephants in Yunnan have increasingly come under pressure from rapid development in Xishuangbanna which has encroached upon the forests in which they live. It is believed that this encroachment has led to a growing number of attacks on humans by elephants.

Last winter in Xishuangbanna an American tourist was seriously injured by an elephant and a Chinese man on holiday was killed by an elephant in separate attacks.

The new Yunnan/Laos reserve will focus on minimizing conflict between elephants and humans. Officials involved in the reserve said that in addition to protecting elephants, the reserve will aim to protect biodiversity in the region, which is part of the Greater Mekong Subregion, where more than 1,000 new species have been discovered in the last decade.

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