China tries to keep wandering herd of elephants out of harm’s way

·3-min read
<p>An elephant walks along a road in Eshan, Yunnan province in China, on 27 May, 2021. </p> (via REUTERS)

An elephant walks along a road in Eshan, Yunnan province in China, on 27 May, 2021.

(via REUTERS)

Efforts are underway to keep a herd of 15 wild elephants out of harm's way as they continue with their expedition that began 500 km from a nature reserve in southwestern China.

With the lumbering animals now outside the provincial capital of Kunming, a city with a population of about eight million people, authorities have deployed 700 police and emergency workers equipped with 10 tonnes of corn, pineapples and other food.

They are also backed with trucks and drones to ensure that they remain away from harm.

A timely warning has also been issued to the locals, asking them to not stare, not leave corn or salt outside, maintain the distance and not disturb them with firecrackers.

The Asian elephants are said to have travelled from their usual range on the border with Myanmar to across China, leaving a trail of destruction, damaged forests and ruined crops in its wake. No one is quite sure whether they are looking for better food, newer habitat or are just lost.

Either way, their decision to travel north has captivated residents and experts alike.

Along the way, the elephants strayed into villages, drained a water tank and devoured stores of grain, including that leftover from fermentation, leading to reports of at least one elephant getting drunk. The herd also damaged 56 hectares of crops and caused a loss of about $1.1 million (£778,068), according to Xinhua news agency.

There have been instances of clashes with human, however, no casualties have been reported so far.

Authorities said the group initially included 16 animals when they left the reserve near the city of Pu’er, but two returned home and a baby was born during the walk.

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Images taken by drones show six female and three male adults, three juveniles and three calves. According to animal experts, the herd seems to have picked up pace due to fear of the densely populated areas and are unlikely to enter the city.

Ecologists told state media that the reduction of suitable habitat inside their reserve is likely to have caused the herd to seek pastures new but it is at the moment unclear, when did the elephants leave and where do they intend to go.

“The shrinking of rainforests in the elephants' home in Xishuangbanna may be a reason that led to the migration,” Zhang Li, a professor of ecology at Beijing Normal University, told state-run Global Times.

“Elephants learned there is so much food, it’s so nutritious, it’s so easy to harvest and it’s safe,” Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, a principal investigator at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, who specializes in elephants, told the New York Times. “This means that elephants have been going back to places where they had been absent for a long time.”

However, researchers have not ruled out the possibility of the leader of the herd lacking experience and leading the whole group astray.

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