Wild elephants in China are finally coming home

Elephants attracted international attention for their long adventure away from home

Namita Singh
Tuesday 10 August 2021 14:07
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A herd of wild elephants continues their journey through China

A herd of 14 wild Asian elephants who wandered more than 700 kilometres away from a natural reserve are finally almost back home, after a journey of more than a year that brought them international attention.

The herd, which has been wandering for about 17 months, is now safely on their way back to a nature reserve in Yunnan province’s Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, according to the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

They began returning to their habitat after crossing the Yuanjiang river on Sunday, reported state-run news agency Xinhua.

The herd became a global sensation after they trekked over 700 km away from their original home in the country’s far south, near the Thai border where the nature reserve is located, and began an expedition northward.

From food baits to setting roadblocks, Chinese authorities tried different ways to direct the group to suitable habitats throughout their journey.

They made attempts to keep track of their movements by deploying hundreds of personnel and prevent any conflict if they land up in human settlements, even as there have been incidents where the herd raided farms and a retirement home for food.

Authorities cut power supplies to prevent the elephants from electrocuting themselves and sent police to evacuate roads or distract them away from densely populated areas using about 18 drones.

This picture taken on 23 July 2021 shows members of the Yunnan Forest Brigade operating a drone to monitor a herd of migrating wild Asian elephants at the command centre in Daqiao in southwest China’s Yunnan province

The herd passed through counties like Mojiang, Yuanjiang, Shiping and E’shan before entering Jinning district in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, on 2 June.

Months of efforts finally came to fruition, after it was reported on Saturday that the wandering elephants were found entering the forest near the Ganzhuang community in Yunnan’s Yuanjiang county. All of them were said to be in good condition.

The elephants were still in Yuanjiang county approximately 200 km away from the reserve on Sunday, reported the Associated Press.

Asian elephants face the threat of extinction and have been given China’s A-level state protection for wildlife. They are mostly found in Yunnan province.

In recent decades, the number of elephants in the province has almost doubled due to enhanced protection efforts. Wildlife experts believe this could be a possible reason behind their migration.

“The reason for the migration of this herd is still unclear, but the possible reasons could be lack of food supply, elephants number growth, and the most important – habitat loss,” Evan Sun, wildlife campaign manager at non-profit World Animal Protection, China, said.

Increasing human activities, including farming and urban growth, has resulted in buffer zones between humans and elephants shrinking, leading to more risks of encroachment in the latter’s habitats.

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