The odyssey of elephants 21-06-21 10:45 Updated BJT
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By Zhou Fujing

The aimless trekking of 15 Asian wild elephants in southwest China's Yunnan Province since mid-April has attracted worldwide attention. The surprising migration has generated a media sensation and sparked questions as to what prompted their journey and why did they leave their home. 

Detail their journey

Actually, their trekking started in March 2020 when 16 wild Asian elephants left Mengyangzi Conservation Area, their original habitat, which is in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, Yunnan Province. They embarked on the journey and arrived in Pu'er City in November, where a female elephant gave birth to a baby a month later. The 17 elephants stayed there for five months and resumed the migration northward on April 16, 2021. They departed from Mojiang County, Pu'er City and arrived at Yuanjiang County, Yuxi City. Since then, their eventful journey has become known to the whole world. 

A week later, on April 24, two elephants left the group and went back to Pu'er, while the other 15 continued their odyssey to the north. They trekked through Shiping and Eshan counties and arrived in Hongta District, Yuxi City on May 29. They hiked 500 km in 40 days and their footsteps covered half of the province. They travelled north through fields, highways, villages and towns.

What triggered their journey?

We have no way of telling where they are going and why.

Chen Mingyong, a professor at Yunnan University who studies wild elephants, said, "It is common for Asian elephants to migrate, but in the past that has mostly been to look for food within their habitats. An exodus this far north is quite rare."

But one fact is worth mentioning. The wild elephant population in Xishuangbanna and two neighboring regions has grown in recent years, from fewer than 200 several decades ago to around 300 today after two decades of conservation. Based on the fact, one explanation seems plausible. The elephants may be on a quest for food and territory as a result of their shrinking habitat in the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in Yunnan. Some say it is because of climate change or because their living environment is threatened by human agricultural activities. But does it really hold water? If their habitat was encroached by human activities, how can the population keep increasing?

Are they lost? We don't know either. Some predict the "inexperienced leadership" of the elephant in charge may have caused the wandering. Is she leading the group in the wrong direction that she thought was right? They are both speculations and we shouldn’t make any assumptions. 

Good signs are taking on.

The elephants remain on the move. On June 12, the elephants were spotted in Shijie township in Yuxi City, more than 8 kilometers southwest of the Kunming suburb. Were they heading toward home? 

Beijing has well prepared for this "unprecedented journey." Emergency workers, vehicles and drones have been deployed to monitor the movements and protect local residents. Traffic controls were put in place where the elephants were expected to pass. Villages along the road were informed to take precautions to avoid human-elephant conflict. They have been reported to cause about 6.8 million yuan loss from damaging crops. All elephants are safe and healthy and no person is injured in encounters with them. Tonnes of food are on the way to keep them fed. 

We are curious about how their journey might end. 

Editor: Zhang Jianfeng
21-06-21 10:45 BJT
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