Yongki elephant killed Sumatra Indonesia
There are less than 2,000 Sumatran elephants living in the wildCHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

A ranger was trampled to death while watching wild elephants in China, according to authorities. Yao Zhengyang was reported missing on Thursday (22 October) in Mengwang township. His body was found early on Friday morning, the Xishuangbanna prefectural government said on its microblog.

"According to an initial investigation, death was caused by wild elephants," said the posting.

Xishuangbanna, which is in southern Yunnan province, bordering Laos, has around 300 wild elephants with state-level protection on a par with China's unofficial mascot, the giant panda.

There are severe penalties for killing elephants in China, including the death sentence. Despite the setting aside of land for elephant habitat, the animals are blamed for damage to crops, and occasional attacks on humans are reported, according to AP.

China has a reputation as a major market for poached African ivory.

Tom Milliken, director of Traffic for Southern Africa based in Harare, Zimbabwe said: "Most ivory from Africa makes its way to Asia, and within Asia, China's middle class seems to have an insatiable appetite for ivory right now and we are paying the consequences here in Africa."

Tanzania last week arrested a Chinese businesswoman, Yang Fenglan, 66, also known as the Queen of Ivory, accused of involvement in millions of dollars in ivory deals. Yang has been in Tanzania since the 1970s, when she arrived as an interpreter on a Chinese rail project.

In May, Mozambican authorities seized 340 tusks, or 2,650 pounds of ivory, and 65 rhino horns. Two Chinese nationals were arrested, one of whom is also accused of offering police a $34,000 bribe to drop the charges.

Milliken said Chinese authorities were beginning to take tougher action against their citizens caught smuggling elephant tusks or rhino horn, but more needed to be done.

Although China only has a small number of elephants it is one of the few places where numbers are on the rise.