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Visa-less elephant flaunts Yunnan's international border protocols

By in News on

Sometimes, not very often, but occasionally, the news coming out of Yunnan has nothing to do with statistical government accomplishments, infrastructure gains or newly promulgated policies. Sometimes a story is just fun. That is certainly the case this week as video from a border checkpoint emerged showing an elephant hopping a checkpoint fence in Xishuangbanna Prefecture and strolling slowly into neighboring Laos.

The video has gone viral inside China, as it opens a small window into the anthropomorphic life of one member of China's elusive herd of wild elephants. The surveillance footage was shot in Chahe (岔河), a small border town opposite the Lao frontier village of Luang Matha. The elephant appeared just after 4am on the morning of January 27, meandering down a narrow road connecting the two countries.

The wandering pachyderm approached a barrier, stepped a bit awkwardly over it and then sauntered into Laos. The minor international incident brought two guards armed with flashlights out of their barracks. Chinese media reports two groups of soldiers were dispatched to nearby villages to alert residents to the elephant's presence. Laos border officers were also informed of their presumably passport-less visitor.

Roughly two hours later the animal returned, this time eschewing the checkpoint barrier and using the sidewalk. The video has prompted even the usually uninspired Xinhua News Agency to issue an article containing an attempt at humor. It reads in part that the elephant passed through customs "to go on an international tour" in Laos for a few hours.

An officer tasked with keeping track of China's wild elephants believes the animal was most likely searching for food, saying, "It's winter here and there isn't much forage in the forest. We often see wild elephants searching for food in nearby villages."

Yunnan is the only province in China still home to indigenous Asian elephants, a local point of pride especially in the southern prefectures of Pu'er and Xishuangbanna. Both regions border Laos and contain extensive forests that stretch across the international border. There are roughly 30,000 Asian elephants in South and Southeast Asia. They average around 3.2 meters in height and weigh more than five tons each. The animals spend most of their days looking for food, understandable considering that they require around 300 kilograms of it each day.

The elephant population in Yunnan is estimated to have plateaued at around 300 individuals for most of the past decade. Recent conservation efforts in the province's southern prefectures include a 55,000-hectare cross-border elephant sanctuary and programs aimed at educating locals on how to deal with occasional pachyderm mayhem.

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These gentle giants are one one my favorite animals in the world. Too bad I didn't come across any wild elephant migrations during my Xixhuangbanna visit. I wouldn't mind if they bumped round our vehicles like toy cars for a close up encounter.

Btw, props to Kunming's Yuantong Shan Zoo for improving the elephant/lion/bear captivity areas. The skywalk overhead view is an nice addition for visitors. The playful baby elephant was adorable and a must-see.

I like this animal's attitude. Visa-free travel.

didn't stay long, probably complaining about the food

Customs didn't even look at his trunk.

It was such a short trip he didn't even have to pack....

Great news! Hong Kong just voted to ban all ivory sales. HK was a major ivory trading hub and a loophole black market for Chinese Mainland buyers.

Persistent anti-ivory campaigns will hopefully diminish ivory demands among Chinese elites, thereby reducing elephant poaching around the world, particularly in Africa. It's estimated ~30,000 elephants are killed by poachers every year.

Shark fin demands/appetite in China supposedly dropped 70% over the years as a result of similar public education from celebrities on social media.

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