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Elephant kills Yunnan woman near nature preserve

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A woman in Xishaungbanna was trampled to death Tuesday by a wild elephant. Li Lianfen (李莲芬) was collecting forage for her pigs in a watermelon field when at least one elephant attacked and killed her. Several other villagers hid under a bridge when they heard the elephants approaching but were unaware Li remained in the fields, Yunnan Net is reporting.

Nine other villagers spent the night in a culvert hiding from the elephants. When they emerged the next morning they found Li dead and their tractor and fields destroyed. The farmers told Yunnan Net that elephants first began to venture onto their land in late October.

The field where the attack occurred is located near the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve (西双版纳国家级自然保护区), a system of interlinked protected areas spanning 2,410 square kilometers. The conglomeration of reserves includes one jointly established by China and Laos in 2009 to provide refuge for large animals such as elephants and tigers.

Wild elephants in Yunnan, taxonomically known as Elephas maximus indicus, are a relatively small population. It is estimated that fewer than 250 of the creatures live in the province, primarily in nature reserves. Smaller than their African relatives, Asian bull elephants can still weigh 5,000 kilograms.

Females of the species are somewhat smaller and can grow to weigh 4,000 kilograms. Asian elephants often live in herds of ten or more and each animal needs to eat 300 kilograms of food each day. Because of fluctuations in the availability of seasonal food, individual wild elephants require overlapping ranges of between 100 and 300 square kilometers.

The Chinese government reports that elephant populations in Yunnan are on the rise despite a general lack of habitat. Competition for food and territory between the animals themselves, as well as with humans, has led to increased aggression among elephants everywhere in the world.

Tuesday's attack was the first of its kind this year. However, confrontations between humans and elephants are not entirely rare in southern Yunnan. Last November a man was killed by a wild elephant, and the animals have reportedly attacked 140 people in Yunnan over the past 20 years.

Image: ANCF

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The farmers should consider raising hot chili peppers along the edges of their farms to protect against elephants. The capsicum oil in the leaves of the plants - and the peppers themselves - irritate the elephants eyes - and can reduce the desirability of crops to the elephants.

There exist special pepper-based gum-based mixtures that can be applied to farm fencing to keep elephants out of crops. Farmers in Kenya are using this approach in addition to more traditional electric fencing.

On a similar note, personal protection sprays, tear gas sprays, containing capsicum oil can be used to divert elephant charges - but the spray needs a throw distance of at least 25 meters - since a charging elephant has a lot of momentum and cannot turn quickly.

Some of the children's water squirt guns, like the Super Soakers, have that kind of reach - but need some extra fittings to be reliable in the field: Look at Internet listed do-it-yourself projects to improve its range.

Additionally, farmers should be encouraged to invite beekeepers to keep hives at the edges of the farms closest to the wildlife preserve. Elephants can learn to avoid bee hives and bee stings quickly.

The very best bet is a new one: Using elephant language to warn elephants using digital MP3 players connected to large subwoofers.

For most villagers, elephant language is below the range of human hearing - so the subwoofers can be operated at high volume for extended ranges of up to 20 km. The exact elephant language phrases needed for Asian elephants can be isolated and recorded by linguistics researchers.

Contact the Cornell University Elephant Listening Project in the US for more information on elephant linguistics. Their current subject of study is the African Forest Elephant Language. See video here: www.cornell.edu/video/?videoID=1759

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