Prevailing Selfish Consciousness Worsening Wild Elephant-Related Problems

Accompanying the neglect of TEK was the rapid spread of exotic selfish conscious­ness, resulting in bloody elephant poaching and savage destruction.

The “capturing elephant” in Mengyang sub-reserve during 1972-1973 indicated nothing but human selfish consciousness. The capturing team did not learn tradi­tional capturing experiences or consider the feelings of the indigenous people; they just went into the forests with guns and took what they wanted. The young elephant

Prevailing Selfish Consciousness Worsening Wild Elephant-Related Problems

Fig. 10.3 Elephants moved freely among separated sub-reserves in Xishuangbanna (upper panel). After the 1990s, however, the large populations of elephants were divided into small isolated populations by habitat degeneration, elephant poaching, and other human disturbances. The highway, passing through or stretching across sub-reserves, especially disrupted elephant move­ment, making elephant-related problems more serious. In the Mengyang sub-reserve, for example, obstructed by the highway, elephants moved at random on the eastern side of the highway, creating more damage (bottom)

caught at that time was sent to Shanghai Zoo as a exhibition animal. The whole procedure of “capturing elephant” was recorded and edited as a scientific and education film that was shown all over China for many years after 1973. The film told the public about the untamed animals and tropical forests and rich biological

Table 10.3 Perception and attitude of interviewees toward wild elephants


Perception and attitudes



Emotion toward wild elephants







Like if without problems






Coexistence with elephants




Far away from village









Causes of elephant-related problems

Shelter shortage



Food shortage



Excessive population



Are fond of being close to village



Are fond of crops






Approach to mitigate

Inhabitants leave



human-elephant conflicts

Elephants leave



Reduction of rubber plantation



Reduction of elephants



resources in southwestern China, as well as the powerful humans. Since then, more immigrants have moved into Xishuangbanna to develop tropical plantations.

The rubber plantation is one of the main factors worsening elephant-related problems in Xishuangbanna. Rubber was regarded as a key national raw material resource. The Chinese state council, in 1951, decided to develop rubber plantations in south and southwestern China. In Xishuangbanna, the most suitable areas (tropical rainforest) for rubber cultivation are where wild elephants preferred to live. Many rubber plantations developed by immigrants, followed by local people, in these areas destroyed the wild elephants’ habitats. In 1976, forests covered approximately 70 % of Xishuangbanna, but by 2003 they covered less than 50 %. During this period, the area of tropical rainforests (where wild elephants preferred to live) was reduced by 67 % (Li et al. 2007). Wild elephants were driven to higher uplands. In addition, after the cold-resistant varieties of rubber trees were used, higher uplands with lower temperature were also cultivated with rubber trees (Chen and Wu 2009). The wild elephants’ habitats decreased widely.

Nevertheless, local people preferred to have more rubber trees; 81.3 % of the 412 interviewees believed the expansion of cultivated land, especially rubber plantations, was reasonable; they would even plant more rubber trees if they had extra land. From data listed in Table 10.2, a positive relationship was found between cultivated areas and elephant-related problems in 16 villages; the Spearman’s correlation coefficient was 0.635 (denotes 0.01 significance levels, P = 0.008), which implied that the larger was the cultivated area, the more serious were the elephant-related problems. Of 412 interviewees, 56.3 % understood clearly that wild food shortage and crop preference were the main causes for elephant-related problems, but only 9.4 % considered mitigating elephant-related problems by reducing rubber trees; 70.9 % hoped to reduce the elephant population or to move elephants away from areas where elephant-related problems happened (Table 10.3).

In fact, the rapid growth of rubber cultivation was only aimed at earning money. Local people, companies, and the government in Xishuangbanna were fond of sharing income from raw rubber products. They knew the negative impacts of rubber cultivation and tried to improve the situation, but became weak and ineffi­cacious, because they never considered stopping the increasing growth of rubber cultivation. Facing the heavy cost of elephant-related problems, they had no choice but asked to for compensation from conservation departments of government.

To improve the social and economic situation in Xishuangbanna, highways of different grades were built, forming the dense highway net. The development of a highwaynet met human demands, but blocked the migration of wild elephants, reinforcing elephant-related problems (Fig. 10.3).

The Simao-Xiaomengyang-Mohan Highway, a part of the Kunming-Bangkok Highway, opened in 2006. It passed through Mengyang sub-reserve and cut off the movement of elephants from east to west; and it also stretched across Mengla and Shangyong sub-reserve and disrupted the movement of elephants between the two sub-reserves. In Mengyang sub-reserve, 2 overpasses and 23 underpasses were built for the elephants (Zhang et al. 2006); the elephants used 11 of the 25 underpasses sometimes but rarely used the other 14 passes (Chen et al. 2008). They climbed on the highway, or stopped and rushed blindly when they came to the highway from the east. Elephants were sequestered into two large groups after the highway opened in 2006, one in the western remote mountains, another in an area about 10 km wide on the eastern side of the highway, where elephant-related problems recently became serious. In Mengla and Shangyong sub-reserves, elephant move­ment was also blocked. A group of more than 30 elephants from Shangyong sub-reserves passed the highway to Mengla sub-reserve in January 2009 and did not return. Later, in January 2011, 21 elephants in Mengla sub-reserve fled west­ward to Mengban and Yaoqu, where elephants had not appeared in the past 30 years.

10.2 Discussion and Conclusion

We provided a case to discuss the reason why human-wildlife conflict became common and serious. The environment-friendly TEK, including a simple ecolog­ical view of forest priority, a biocultural rural landscape, and elephant culture, not only played an important role in indigenous daily life but also benefited the conservation of forests and all wildlife in the forests. The neglect of TEK and the rapid spread of exotic selfish consciousness increased elephant-related problems.

National and local government, the nature reserve, and experts made great efforts to reduce elephant-related problems in China (Chen et al. 2006); distinct achievements were noted (Wu 2008). Unfortunately, local people, companies, and governments at different levels chose what they wanted when they made decisions to balance conservation and development. People ignored or even hated elephants surviving in wildness; few of them were willing to make any concession. Our study indicated that 95.9 % of the 412 interviewees did not like coexisting with the wild elephants; 70.9 % of interviewees hoped to reduce the elephant population or to move elephants away from places where elephant-related problems happened (Table 10.3). In contrast, all over Xishuangbanna, in both urban and rural areas, elephant designs and sculptures, as local symbols, were commonly seen anywhere such as on roads, bridges, buildings, parks, clothes and personal adornment, scenic spots, handiwork, literature, and art, creating a richly atmospheric elephant culture. Such elephant culture showing enthusiastically eroded the environment-friendly TEK with elephant adoration and love. Therefore, it is necessary to consider cultural factors to mitigate elephant-related problems.

In conclusion, it could be understood clearly that uncivilized human behavior invaded elephant habitats, provoking the aggressive behavior of elephants. For the even more serious elephant-related problems, human population growth, habitat fragmentation, change of elephants’ ecological behaviors, and diet and water availability were the ostensible reasons; the fundamental reasons were the neglect of environment-friendly TEK and rapid spread of exotic selfish consciousness. Therefore, it is necessary to refigure moderate and environment-friendly TEK to mitigate elephant-related problems and to build a sustainable biocultural landscape in Xishuangbanna.

Acknowledgments Foundation item: Under the auspices of National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 30870431)