Tue, 27 Jul 2021

BEIJING, China: First they became stars in China, and now 15 wandering elephants have become international celebrities.

Worldwide media are now providing updates on the elephant herd's wanderings, which has taken them 300 miles from their home reserve in the last year.

The home of these elephants is in the mountains of southwest Yunnan province, near the provincial capital of Kunming.

Viewers have watched, primarily on Youtube and Twitter, as the elephants have wandered through towns in China, often stopping to dine in stores and homes, causing significant damage.

Viewership soared when two baby elephants fell into a drainage ditch and had to be rescued by older elephants.

Chinese fans have also been following the elephants on China's Weibo microblogging service, with photos of the elephants sleeping attracting 200 million views and 25,000 posts on Monday night.

Security cameras have caught the herd jogging down urban streets, and often film them from the air using drones.

The elephants have been seen raiding farms in search of food and water, as well as an auto dealership. They even were seen poking their trunks into a home for the elderly, causing one frightened resident to retreat under his bed.

While no one-people or animals-has been hurt, damage to farmers' crops has been set at over $1 million.

One elephant was reported to have left the herd and returned home. And one baby was born during the adventure.

The herd now includes six female and three male adults, three juveniles and three calves, according to reports.

What exactly motivated them to make the epic journey remains a mystery, although they appear to be especially attracted to corn.

Some experts have wondered whether their wanderings was caused by a leader who has a poor sense of direction.

Asian elephants normally remain close to home, unless there is a loss of food or water.

"In this case, we don't really know why they left their home range, but do know that there has been significant habitat loss due to agriculture and conversion of forests into plantations within that range in the last few decades," wrote Nilanga Jayasinghe, manager for Asian species conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, in an email.

"What possibly happened here is that in their search for new habitat, they got lost along the way and kept going."

Authorities have worked to prevent interaction between humans and the elephants.

Coincidentally, Kunming is to host the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity's Convention of Parties to discuss human-wildlife conflict, and "this is a real-time example of the importance of addressing the issue and its root causes, for the benefit of both wildlife and people," Jayasinghe wrote.

Farmers and others must display the utmost restraint towards the wandering herd, as elephants are given significant protections in China.

As the herd has wandered, the public has been ordered to remain in their homes and avoid scaring the elephants.

Authorities have had some success in rerouting the elephants by parking trucks and construction equipment to block roads. Food has also been used to lure the elephants away from residential areas.

As of this week, the herd has been spotted outside Kunming, a city of 7 million.

Meanwhile, a provincial command center has been set up to monitor the elephants, who have stopped and appear to be resting.

More than 410 emergency response and police personnel, along with dozens of vehicles and 14 drones, are being used to monitor the elephants.

There are only 50,000 Asian elephants, whose numbers continue declining.

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