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One of China’s wandering elephants has finally made it home.
The herd of wild Asian elephants shot to fame last month while embarking on an epic journey through southwestern China. Since leaving a nature reserve last year, the herd has trekked more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) across the rugged landscape of Yunnan province, roaming free through fields, villages and large towns.
Last week, a lone elephant who broke away from the herd a month ago was captured and returned to its home reserve. It had traveled more than 190 kilometers (118 miles) on its own, surviving on food prepared by local authorities and at times foraging into villages.
Authorities said the 1.8-ton male had lingered near populated areas and posed a risk to public safety, prompting the decision to tranquilize it and send it home. Veterinarians found no external injuries on the elephant, which walked into the rainforest and took a dip in the river after being released, the Yunnan government said.
Meanwhile, the rest of the herd is still marching on what seems to be an endless journey, closely monitored round-the-clock by dozens of drones, and hundreds of emergency response personnel and police officers.
The elephants became a national obsession last month, with millions tuning in to watch livestreams of their daily life, captured by drones buzzing around them. People have followed transfixed as they trampled crops, broke into kitchens and – when they were not wreaking havoc – lay down together for peaceful group naps.
But like all internet sensations, interest has inevitably begun to wane, with fewer and fewer people talking about the herd online.
And while the elephants recede from public life, the environmental problems exposed by their year-long journey are just beginning.
Some experts see the elephants’ trip as a desperate quest for better resources. Asian elephants are a protected species in China, and thanks to conservation efforts, their population has doubled to about 300 in four decades. But at the same time, almost 40% of their habitat in southern Yunnan has been lost to commercial development over the past 20 years, a group of Chinese researchers wrote in a letter to scientific journal Nature last week.
Amid China’s rapid economic growth, rubber and tea plantations have proliferated in Yunnan, replacing large swathes of forests, while highways, railways and hydropower plants cut off migration paths. The province’s elephant herds are left fragmented and isolated in ever-shrinking plots of land, with many forced to forage for food in agricultural areas instead.
That has led to a rise in human-elephant conflict. Between 2014 and 2020, the Yunnan government paid over $26 million in compensation for damage caused by elephants, state media reported. Sometimes, such conflicts can be deadly too. From 2013 to 2019, 41 people were trampled to death and 32 others were injured by Asian elephants in Yunnan, according to provincial authorities.
In photos: China's herd of wandering elephants
Perhaps less known to the public is that their beloved herd of wandering elephants also claimed the life of a villager last summer, near the city of Pu’er in southern Yunnan.
For now, authorities are trying to steer the herd away from populated areas with food bait and roadblocks. Every day, the animals are fed with large quantities of corn, as well as bananas and pineapples, while heavy trucks form long lines to prevent them from entering villages and towns. But still, thousands of residents are evacuated each day to make way for their journey.
In the long term, scientists say the only way to prevent a future elephant exodus is to restore, expand and reconnect their existing habitats.
“We call for an integrated system of national park reserves for China’s elephants. This should be protected and take into account their foraging habits, migration patterns and other phased activities,” the Chinese experts wrote in their letter to Nature.
The tension of coexistence between humans and wildlife is a problem faced not only by Yunnan – one of China’s most ecologically diverse regions. As China undergoes rapid urbanization, wild animals in other parts of the country have increasingly faced similar problems, especially as the populations of some species have been boosted by conservation efforts.
In April, a Siberian tiger wandered into a village in northeast China, attacking a woman and a car filled with passengers. Just last week, three wolves attacked villagers and killed a dog in Heilongjiang province. Two of the animals were shot dead by authorities and the other was sent to a nearby zoo.
- United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reaffirmed the US’ commitment to defend the Philippines’ armed forces from attack in the South China Sea, under a 70-year-old mutual defense treaty.
- Activists in the Philippines are trying to change a law that allows 12-year-olds to consent to have sex, which they say has partly caused rampant child sexual abuse in the country.
- The owner of a factory where at least 52 people died in a blaze in Bangladesh has been arrested, along with seven other people.
- The capital of South Korea and Australia’s largest city announced Friday they would increase their Covid-19 prevention measures to combat growing outbreaks of the Delta variant in both cities.
After Didi, China looks to extend its control over overseas IPOs
China’s crackdown on Big Tech just keeps growing.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) — the country’s powerful internet watchdog — this weekend proposed that any company with data on more than 1 million users must seek the agency’s approval before listing its shares overseas. It also proposed companies must submit IPO materials to the agency for review ahead of listing. The agency said it will seek “public opinion” on the draft rules, which were published Saturday, before they are formally adopted.
The move shows how much Beijing is broadening its control over the tech sector. The CAC is the same agency that banned Didi, China’s largest ride-hailing service, from app stores, over “seriously violating laws” about data collection days after the company went public in the United States.
The CAC’s influence in China has ballooned over the years, since President Xi Jinping set up the agency as it currently operates in 2014 in the name of protecting China’s internet and data security. Xi’s move came after former CIA contractor Edward Snowden leaked US intelligence secrets in 2013, sparking a global firestorm over privacy and security.
The CAC on Friday also punished Didi even further, banning 25 of the company’s other apps and accusing them of violating laws around collecting and using personal information. The apps include Didi Enterprise, Uber China (which Didi bought from Uber in 2016) and other apps designed for different services, from ride-hailing to financial programs.
Other Chinese regulators have been pressuring tech, too. Over the weekend, the State Administration of market Regulation blocked Tencent’s plan to merge two of China’s top video game streaming websites, Huya and Douyu. The regulator cited concerns that the merger would give Tencent — which is the largest shareholder in each website — too much control over the marketplace. Huya and Douyu are publicly traded in New York and have a combined market capitalization of $5.3 billion.
– By Laura He
A cool game: In Chongqing, known as one of China’s “furnace cities” for its extremely hot and humid weather, residents have come up with creative ways to escape the summer heat, including playing mahjong in a giant pool at a water park.
BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines may finally be coming to Taiwan
Taiwan may finally be getting Covid-19 vaccines developed by German drugmaker BioNTech, ending a months-long struggle to obtain the doses amid rising geopolitical tensions with China.
On Sunday, Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Co., the Chinese sales agent for BioNTech, said it had signed a deal to provide 10 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Taiwan. If followed through, the deal would alleviate the island’s vaccine shortage, as it grapples with its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.
The BioNTech vaccines will be sold to the two Taiwanese tech companies – Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (better known as Foxconn) – and a private charity controlled by Foxconn founder Terry Gou. They will then be donated to the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control for distribution, according to a statement from Shanghai Fosun.
The Taiwanese government has blamed Beijing for blocking its access to BioNTech vaccines. Taipei was on the verge of signing a contract for 5 million doses with the German drugmaker in December, but Taiwanese officials said the deal fell through due to political pressure from China.
The Chinese government has denied the accusation. Instead, it insists Taiwan should purchase the vaccine from Shanghai Fosun, which has a distribution deal with BioNTech in greater China.
Taiwan had been slow in rolling out Covid-19 vaccines, as residents initially felt little urgency to get inoculated thanks to its successful containment of the virus. But in April, a rapid surge in infections sent residents rushing for vaccines, placing mounting public pressure on the Taiwanese government to boost supplies.
In June, the United States pledged to deliver 750,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses, drawing the ire of Beijing.