China's wandering elephants enjoy an aimless journey 11-06-21 06:20 Updated BJT
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By Tom McGregor

In southwestern China's Yunnan province, an elephant herd's journey of over 500 kilometers (300 miles) starts with its first step but nobody knows, including the elephant leader, when they will reach the final step of their destination. Their zigzag migration of 15 elephants has aroused the interests of hundreds millions of Chinese who stay updated on Weibo and other Social Media outlets as they eagerly view live streaming videos and news reports about their adventures.

Drone footage shows wandering elephants asleep lying down in a group

Drone footage shows wandering elephants asleep lying down in a group

The elephants have departed from Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in Yunnan's southernmost prefecture on March and by April 16th this year they were spotted 500-km northward in Yuanjiang County. But the elephants have not stopped and earlier this month they were 'lost in Kunming', the capital city of Yunnan with a human population of 8.46 million. They were observed in a suburb town, Jinning, 50-km south of Kunming.

The herd of Asian Elephants is listed as China's top protected species with about 300 of them living in the wild today. Many of them forage in the habitat of the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve but due to more urban development and agricultural production in the region, the elephants have turned edgy to search for better habitats.

Going somewhere but not sure where

At the beginning, 15 elephants felt the urge to go exploring but as of now, two elephants chose to depart from the herd and another elephant was born on the journey. We have six female, three male adults, three juveniles and three calves who continue on the 'Long March' to an unknown location. Their fearless leader has gone foraging with a sweet tooth. He and the other elephants have a preference for eating tropical fruits such as pineapples and they got a hankering for corn too.

 But they have not been kind to the local farmers, inflicting over US$1 million in crop damage and they have begun to march into urban zones and enter into people’s homes at night. They have discovered the allure of raiding refrigerators leaving homeowners distraught. Reportedly, one elephant showed up at a retirement home searching through desks and an elderly man had to hide under his bed. In another incident, elephants trampled through a car dealership. Their actions have created alarm for local residents, but captured the hearts of many Chinese.

Hogging the spotlight

According to media reports, the elephants are trending on Chinese social media platforms. Last Monday, China's Twitter-like Weibo displayed photos of an elephant family sleeping in Xiyang Township on a rainy, dreary evening. The photos were reposted over 25,000 times generating 200+ million clicks. The elephant storyline has gotten very popular on YouTube and Twitter, as well as sparking many headlines from the international media, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, BBC News and elsewhere.

The roaming elephants receive preferential treatment from the local communities they pass by. Chinese government laws forbid people from gawking at or confronting the elephants and a quiet atmosphere is maintained to keep the herd peaceful. Nonetheless, the elephants are under 24-hour monitoring by video surveillance cameras in urban zones, 14 drones, and the Yunnan provincial command center has set up a group of more than 675 emergency response personnel and police officers, along with scores of vehicles.

The task force is assigned to deter the elephants from entering crowded cities, so they had lured them away with over two tons of elephant food placed in the nearby forests. The Chinese media, as well as nationally-recognized Social Media superstars have posted popular videos that highlight the elephants' meandering journey to somewhere.

Seeking solutions to assist Asian Elephants

Although the migration of wandering elephants seems humorous, China's wildlife officials are expressing growing concerns of wild animals coming into closer contact with human beings and that could result in more dangerous consequences later on. The presence of wild elephants pose a threat to people, for example children playing near the herd could get trampled by them and elephants eating crops and raiding refrigerators do inflict economic harm.

The elephants are not acting malicious when disturbing the public since they are in search of a permanent habitat where they can eat, live and sleep in peace. They just haven't found the right spot yet. Zhang Li, a field wildlife biologist and professor on mammal conservation at Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times, "There are still large areas of forest around Kunming for Asian elephants to inhabit, but there will be much less food for them there."

"Landscape protection planning should be carried out for Asian elephant habitats within the overall system of national parks," Zhang added. "The construction of Asian elephant ecological corridors, and the reconstruction and restoration of Asian elephant habitats, should be promoted through ecological compensation and other measures to connect fragmented habitats."

Local officials have deployed remote sensing data analysis to guide the herd to a suitable habitat and to provide them with an abundance of food to keep them healthy and happy.

(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or )

Editor: zhenglimin
11-06-21 06:20 BJT
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