This article appeared in the June 21, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Meet Becky, our friend and elephant conservationist from Kunming

Linda Feldmann/The Christian Science Monitor
Becky Shu Chen, a Chinese wildlife conservationist from Kunming, makes wontons in Linda Feldmann’s kitchen on May 6, 2019. Becky lived with Linda during her monthlong fellowship at Defenders of Wildlife in Washington.

Becky Shu Chen could not be more engaged. Her issue – the wild elephants of China – had become international news as a herd roamed toward her native city, Kunming, in southern Yunnan province. Why they were migrating far from home was a matter of conjecture, but Ms. Chen was on it. 

“We’ve seen elephants expanding their range for decades now, as their populations increase, and they search for more food for the growing herd,” she told The Washington Post.

Ms. Chen is a consultant for the Zoological Society of London, and an expert on elephant-human interactions. She was also my houseguest in 2019 during a monthlong fellowship at Defenders of Wildlife here in Washington.

“Becky,” as she calls herself in the West, brought an infectious love of wildlife conservation to an already-animal-friendly household. She gave us a crocheted pangolin her mom had made. And there was a side bonus: She liked to cook. 

Becky also opened our eyes to the strides being made the world over with endangered species. As the Future Crunch newsletter reports, populations of Saiga antelope in Kazakhstan, the Polish wolf, the griffon vultures of Bulgaria, and the Florida panther are all growing. 

“It’s always the same story with these endangered species recoveries: decades of unseen, thankless work from scientists, conservationists and activists,” Future Crunch observed

Coverage of the Chinese elephants notes that their continued roaming isn’t without cost. By the end of May, they had caused more than $1 million in crop damage. But Becky sees an upside, too, to their world-famous trek.

“The elephants are helping to raise the issues around coexistence,” she says via Facebook messenger. Here’s her blog post on that. 

And, Becky adds, they have great timing. The United Nations Biodiversity Conference will take place in October – in Kunming, China.


This article appeared in the June 21, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/21 edition
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