KUNMING, July 6 (Xinhua) -- Growing mainly corn for years, Chen Yongqun, a farmer in southwest China's Yunnan Province, planted kudzu this year instead, hoping to prevent bears and monkeys from stealing his grain.
"The fruit of kudzu grows in the soil. The wild animals cannot get to it easily," the 39-year old said with an unsure tone because the harvest season has yet to come.
Chen is a member of the Dulong ethnic group that mainly scatters throughout the gorges of the Dulongjiang River in Yunnan bordering Myanmar. This area is known for dense forests, taking up 93 percent of the total land, and a rich reserve of rare wild animals.
Aside from the crops, pigs, calves, goats and honey are also on the menu for the bears, Chen said.
Beekeeping here is different from other places. Villagers hollow out a 60-cm long, round log and put it outside for wild bees to make honeycombs. Honey produced this way is of good quality, but the probability of successfully attracting bees is as low as 30 percent.
"If we do not harvest the honey in time, all our hard work will be for nothing because honey is the bears' favorite treat," Chen said.
Wild animals have long been a problem for Dulong villagers. As long as Chen could remember, he has been competing with bears and monkeys for food.
"In the past, we grew buckwheat on the slope and corn in the riverside land. When the grain was ripe, bears and monkeys would help themselves first," Chen recalled. "The remaining crops could only feed the family for three or four months, and we had to turn to edible wild herbs."
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Dulong people have given up their traditional "slash-and-burn" farming method and returned many grain plots to forests.
Arduous efforts of environmental protection by villagers and the government in the following years contributed to increasing forestry recovery and provided better habitats for wild animals, said Zhu Benxiang, director of the wildlife conservation office of the forestry department of Gongshan County which administers Dulongjiang Township.
However, a thicker forest and growing population of wild animals worsened the conflicts with humans.
"When the animals have difficulty filling their bellies in the woods, they will come to villages," Zhu said.
In 2018, the township reported more than 460 incidents involving wild animals, up from about 300 in 2016, and 90 percent involved bears, said Ken Linli, an official with the township forestry station.
When Chen was a boy, the villagers' way of protecting their food against wild animals was to keep vigil at night and drive them away by sounding gongs.
Now insurance companies have come to help. Since 2010, the forestry department in Yunnan Province has bought insurance for villagers who suffer property loss due to state-protected wild animals.
In the first three quarters of 2018, the insurance companies paid compensation of more than 460,000 yuan (about 67,000 U.S. dollars) to villagers in Dulongjiang, Ken said.
Gao Lisheng, another local villager, told Xinhua that two of his three honeycombs were ransacked by bears in 2017, and he was paid 600 yuan as compensation.
"Last year, one of my mom's hogs was eaten by bears and she was paid 2,000 yuan for compensation," Chen said.
Besides the insurance, the government also helped villagers adjust farming.
"For example, we are encouraged and supported to grow morel, a valuable mushroom, and kudzu, which are both less affected by wild animals," Chen said.