Author: Ella (Qingqing Yang), Emily (Yunuo Wang), Erick (Shingwun Sun), Sam (Yan Sun)
Dashujiao Village is located at the border of Yunnan Province. Like many villages in Yunnan, this village is famous for its unpolluted air and stunning scenery. However, unlike other villages, nearly 40 elephants have been living here for a long time.
Seeing elephants around the village may seem a misfortune for the villagers. It's because they take corn planted as a primary food source and destroy everything that comes in their paths, including the villagers' tea trees. The villagers suffer economic losses and dislike elephants. One villager even said, "those annoying elephants eat up so much of our crops, and we lose so much money!" Ms. Duan, a villager, also complained, "We hate those elephants, but we dare not harm them."
The door being crooked due to elephants | Sourced from China House
There have been multiple verified reports of elephants appearing inside villagers' houses, and a couple of villagers have expressed, "we're terrified of 'em." Frequent human-elephant conflicts have made some villagers feel hopeless and angry towards the elephants.
Beyond Dashujiao Village, human-elephant conflicts are common around the world. And different people have come up with different solutions, like designating living spaces for humans and elephants, setting up buffer zones, offering compensations. Similarly, in Dashujiao Village, one feasible way is developing wildlife tourism areas with elephants as the main attraction.
Elephants in the village | Sourced from Yuecheng Lu
Elephants: The Main attraction for local tourism
There are three main reasons why developing tourism can alleviate human-elephant conflicts at Dashujiao:
1. Tourism will improve the local economy.
2. If elephants could bring prosperity to the village, the villagers' attitudes towards the elephants would be positive.
3. If tourism develops, villagers won't have to fight elephants for their crops.
Some villagers agree with developing tourism, saying, "If there are other income sources, we're fine if we don't farm anymore." This talk shows that tourism could prevent close contact between villagers and elephants, minimizing hazards.
With the nearby successful model in the same province, there are significant conditions for Dashujiao Village to develop wildlife tourism. For instance, Wild elephant valley(Ye Xiang Gu), located in Xishuangbanna, Yunan, China, attracts over 35 million visitors annually. Since visitors can see wild Asian elephants, some people regarded the valley as one of the "best 50 places for foreigners to visit in China." Currently, Dashujiao Village also has elephants, which are "rare" potential tourism resources in China. Therefore, with demands and supplies for elephant tourism, wildlife tourism in Dushujiao Village is prospective.
The support of villagers is crucial to developing tourism. Currently, most villagers at Dashujiao are farmers. But elephants frequently go around the farmlands, eating up the corn and destroying the tea trees and paddy fields, leaving farmers fewer to sell. As a result, the appearance of elephants has made the village's economy flop significantly over the past few years.
Crops destoryed by elephants | Sourced from China House
Specifically, the villagers have to wait until the elephants leave their fields to harvest their crops for safety reasons. Accordingly, some crops have over-matured and died out before the elephants go, leaving a financial loss for the villagers. This loss is why the villagers are willing to try something new. Mr. Wang is a great example. "If there are more tourists, we will have a bigger chance of selling our tea. If we can't sell our tea and crops, we're going to suffer badly."
The owners of local restaurants also think the same way. "Our customers are mostly local," Ms. Duan, one owner said, "If more people from outside the village come and consume, we can earn more."
Local people's pigs | Sourced from Ella Yang
Other than villagers' support, both government support and investment are also in order. As early as 2018, the Yunnan Investment Promotion Agency has intended to promote tourism at Dashujiao Village. The agency has published a document named "Asian Elephants Sightseeing Tourism, Development Project at Dashujiao Village," detailing how the government would promote tourism.
As of right now, the project above is going well underway. Local elephant observer, Mr. Ma, pointed out, "Government funds will be in place, and we are planning to build an elephant viewing watchtower." Besides the tower, protective measures like electrical fences are also part of the plan, with vast possibilities of being installed soon.
| Local government's project on elephant tourism | Sourced from Yunnan Investment Promotion Agency
In conclusion, with the support of villagers and the government's policies, it is practical to develop tourism in Dashujiao Village.
Wildlife tourism around the world
Globally speaking, multiple successful models around the world have shown that wildlife tourism can relieve human-wildlife conflicts. Two successful examples in South Africa and China have proved that a similar method is realistic for Dashujiao Village. Tourism allows nearby communities to benefit from commercial revenues and relieve the conflicts between wildlife and humans.
One excellent example of wildlife tourism is the iSimangaliso Wetland Park located on the northeast coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The local government established the park in 2000. The government consolidated different lands into protected areas. As 680,000 people live inside and around the park, local people's land is combined into a wetland park. So the South African Restitution Act allows land claimants to receive 8% of total commercial revenues. Communities are the primary recipients of many benefits.
Looking at the example in China, the Wild Elephant Valley (Ye Xiang Gu), which has been mentioned above. The local government has invested over 100 million RMB into the building of the district. As a result, the district now has many different attractions, including elephant circuses.
With government and local community partnerships, tourist districts can help promote wildlife tourism and help alleviate human-wildlife conflicts. Simultaneously, tourism consumption will also ameliorate the local economy.
Therefore, if Dashujiao Village implements a similar system, they can alleviate conflicts while strengthening the economy.
Local tourism: more than elephants
Other than elephants, many different potential resources are available for tourism. The most representative example is the mythical and mysterious Dragon Pond Lake(Long Tang Hu). The lake is 4 kilometers away from the village. On every Chinese new year, villagers willingly go to the lake to pray to the Dragon god.
It is believed that this lake is spiritually efficacious. Legend says girls often get pregnant after a few months when praying for offspring to the Dragon God at the nearby Dragon temple. An elder in the village told a story, "A tea processing factory owner went to the temple and prayed for his business in Yunnan to improve. Later on, when his colleagues' factories closed down during financial crises, his own business was booming."
Dragon Pond Lake | sourced from Erick Sun
After visiting Dragon Pond Lake, visitors can relax in the hot springs not far from Dragon Pond Lake. The spring there is a natural spring, where visitors can see directly where the water comes out.
What's more, if the visitors would like to go hiking, there is a peak a few kilometers away from Dashujiao Village. It is known as Lion Rock, which looks like a pair of lions howling at each other. A 75-year-old villager was claiming, "Gods are living up on the mountain summit. They bless and protect us."
The environment around Lion Rock is also very breezy and calm. Every winter and spring season, the bamboo shoots produced are very fresh and delicious.
Scenery in the village | sourced from Erick Sun
Other than beautiful sceneries, there are also many unique cultural heritages around the village. Over half the population in Dashujiao are Hani people. There are also ethnic minorities like the Dai people and Lahu people. On the 23rd day of the sixth month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, the Hani people celebrate their ethnic holiday, their annual Torch Festival. Mr. Wang, a Hani local, says, "this festival is much more important than the Chinese New Year for us. We would kill our pigs, cows, and other livestock to celebrate it."
With tea as the primary economic source for local villagers, tea picking can also be a tourist attraction in the area. Tourists may experience picking tea, pan-frying tea, and seeing how the tea they drink is processed. Lastly, tourists can bring home their hand-made tea as "souvenirs."
Inside the local tea factory | Sourced from Ella Yang
Although Dashujiao Village has plenty of potential tourism resources, it still faces many challenges to developing tourism.
Firstly, the road condition in Dashujiao needs to be improved. Although cement pavements have replaced most of the dirt roads, some roads are still in disrepair. Due to the remote location, most of the lanes in the village are rugged.
Muddy road | Photographed by Huabin Xu
Secondly, the number of street lights in the village is limited, so it is inconvenient to walking at night, leaving hardship for people to spot elephants during the night. "At 3 am, I could've seen anything scarcely outside, while I heard a great noise. Then I saw an elephant breaking in, seemingly trying to hurt me". Said Ms. Duan.
Mountain path | Photographed by Ella Yang
In addition, Dashujiao's current reception capabilities are limited. On the one hand, the development of many scenic spots is not mature, and tourism facilities are not well-equipped, resulting in inconvenience. On the other hand, there are not enough hotels, restaurants in the village to meet the needs of a large number of tourists. There is currently only one hotel in Dashujiao Village.
In the end, Dashujiao Village is currently little-known to the public, leaving almost no tourists despite 40 wild elephants. Many tourists willing to see the elephants are ignorant about Dashujiao; therefore, opt for the Wild Elephant Valley in Xishuangbanna instead.
Fortunately, the challenges are in the progress of being overcome. In May 2021, affected by the "Elephants heading north" incident, Asian elephants attracted much attention and became famous.
Elephnats hearding north | Photographed by Hongjun Wang
Changes are taking place as a result of attention. Since June, elephant monitors in Dashujiao have been equipped with more drones in hand. "This will make it easier for us to monitor the specific location of the elephants." Mr. Ma, an elephant monitor, said.
In addition, the local tourism industry is also in the process of gradual development. On the dirt road to the hot spring, Mr. Wang, a resident, mentioned, "The government is currently planning to renovate this road, making it more convenient."
Rugged road | Photographed by Ella Yang
Besides, many villagers took advantage of the opportunity brought by elephants to run agritainment. Among them, an owner said frankly, "Agritainments are way more profitable than farming."
There is no doubt that the tourism industry in Dashujiao Village has bountiful resources, local support, and optimistic prospects. In this case, with the increasing attention and support from outside, the scenery of Dashujiao will attract more tourists.
Beautiful scenery in the village | Photographed by Erick Sun
Highly likely, when Dashujiao Village becomes a place where many tourists come, it will be the time that local villagers can coexist harmoniously with the elephants.
Elephants in the village | Sourced from China House