Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Valley

Written by Sally Guo Updated May. 31, 2021

Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Nature Reserve (also called Gajah Liar Valley) is made up of low hills and small hillocks, with wide valley bottoms rich in waterholes that contain enough salt to meet the biological needs of the wild Asian elephant.

The Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Nature Reserve, with its dense forest and its rich variety of animals and birds, many of which are rarely seen outside it, is one of the few places in the world where wildlife can be viewed in its natural habitat, where it is us humans who are "caged in".

Visitors can watch the wild animals and birds go about their daily lives with as little interference as possible from us humans. All of which makes Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant & Nature Reserve something of an open-air museum, but an open-air museum with a difference: these creatures cavort about in their natural habitat, not in a man-made, city zoo habitat.

A corridor to see wild animals in Wild Elephant Valley
A corridor to see wild animals in Wild Elephant Valley, Xishuangbanna

The planned area of Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant & Nature Reserve is 369 hectares. The reserve is abundant in various natural resources including subtropical forests, tropical rainforests (these are found in the valleys below 800 meters above sea level), half-deciduous rainforests (distributed between 800-900 meters above sea level), and subtropical evergreen broad-leafed forests. And of course, there is the usual range of naturally occurring wild animals in these various forest habitats.

In addition, there are more than 400 types of plants on either side of the ravine that is home to the wild elephant herds, including the banyan, olive, and longan tree.

There are several groups, or families, of wild elephants living in the ravine, numbering about 60 head in all. They share the ravine with the bear, the wild buffalo, and the cobra, to name some of the more exotic species.

What to See in the Wild Elephant Valley

An Asian Elephant Ecological Observation Center

Jinuo Ethnic Minority Village

At the Jinuo village the visitor can observe first-hand the unique lifestyle of this special minority group, and, with a bit of luck, one might observe a Jinuo religious ceremony where ritualistic music is played involving the use of very large - and sacred - sun-drums.

The Jinuo are animists, i.e., they believe, as do many other ethnic groups around the world, including American Indians, that all things, inanimate as well as animate, possess a spirit, the sun being especially sacred to the Jinuo - to learn more about the Jinuo ethnic minority.

The Reserve's Natural Resources

The planned area of Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant & Nature Reserve is 369 hectares. The reserve is abundant in various natural resources including subtropical forests, tropical rainforests (these are found in the valleys below 800 meters above sea level), half-deciduous rainforests (distributed between 800-900 meters above sea level), and subtropical evergreen broad-leafed forests.

And of course, there is the usual range of naturally occurring wild animals in these various forest habitats. In addition, there are more than 400 types of plants on either side of the ravine that is home to the wild elephant herds, including the banyan, olive, and longan tree.

There are several groups, or families, of wild elephants living in the ravine, numbering about 60 head in all. They share the ravine with the bear, the wild buffalo, and the cobra, to name some of the more exotic species.

Asian Elephants vs. African Elephants

China has traditionally been a breeding ground for the Asian elephant (aka Indian elephant), which is somewhat smaller than its African cousin. Because of naturally occurring as well as man-made changes in the wild elephant's habitat over time, there are today only about 300 Asian elephants living and multiplying in the free on the virgin forest lands of Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant & Nature Reserve.

Asian Elephants
Asian Elephants

The Asian elephant represents the largest land mammal native to China, which makes Wild Elephant Valley popular with those who like to visit and get a better understanding of Asian elephants.

Compared to the African elephant, the Asian elephant weighs between 3-6 metric tons (the African elephant, between 4-7½ metric tons), has two cranial bulges with an indent in the center (the African elephant has only a single cranial bulge and thus no indent), has small, square-ish, slightly droopy ears ('the ear of the African elephant is shaped like the African continent, it is said; in any case, it slopes back and slightly upwards and outwards, masking the animal's neck when seen in profile).

With its richly varied flora and fauna, its many streams, and waterholes, and with the added state protection that the reserve enjoys, Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant & Nature Reserve is truly an ideal habitat for the many wild animals and birds that make their home here.

The two species cannot cross-breed - at least not successfully, since the two animals are not only of different species, they are of different genres.

How to Get There

It is located 47 kilometers from Jinghong City, Yunnan Province. Visitors can take a bus from Jinghong Bus Station to get there. Or take a bus from Simao to Jinghong or Mengla, which passing by the Wild Elephant Valley.

Opening Hours: From 8:00 to 18:00 every day

Travel Tips

The Wild Elephant Valley Tourism Line jaunt includes a visit to the Asian Elephant Breeding Center; the Elephant Performance District; the Hotel on Big Trees (where wild elephants can be observed, first-hand); the Tropical Rainforest via a cableway trip across the valley; the Birds Performance District (i.e., various rare bird parks); the Butterfly Park; and the Jinuo Ethnic Minority Mountain Village, where you may be lucky enough to observe the Jinuo sun-drum dance.

The cableway, completed in May of 1988, is the first of its kind in China and measures 2063 meters in length. It takes 35 minutes to cross the valley by cableway.

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