One of China’s wandering wild Asian elephants has finally made it home. Meanwhile, the herd of 14 are still wandering in China’s Yunnan province and have moved 10.5 km in the southeastern direction, authorities said.
The elephants entered Longwu Town in Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture and are safe, Xinhua news agency reported.
A male elephant that broke away from the herd was captured and sent back to its forest home in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture on July 7. It is in a good condition.
On Saturday, authorities dispatched 346 emergency and police staff, deployed dozens of vehicles and 23 drones and evacuated 2,259 local residents.
The authorities also fed two tonnes of food to the elephants.
The herd of 15 wandering wild Asian elephants travelled about 500 km north from its forest home in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, before reaching the provincial capital Kunming on June 2.
The male elephant strayed from the herd on June 6, and moved around in the cities of Kunming, Anning and Yuxi, with an activity area of 140 square km and traversing a distance of 190 km.
The elephants became a national obsession, with millions tuning in to watch livestreams of their daily life, captured by drones buzzing around them.
Experts see the elephants’ trip as a desperate quest for better resources. Asian elephants are a protected species in China, and thanks to conservation efforts, their population has doubled to about 300 in four decades.
But at the same time, almost 40% of their habitat in southern Yunnan has been lost to commercial development over the past 20 years, Chinese researchers wrote in scientific journal Nature last week.
Amid China’s rapid economic growth, rubber and tea plantations have proliferated in Yunnan, replacing large swathes of forests, while highways, railways and hydropower plants cut off migration paths. The province’s elephant herds are left fragmented and isolated in ever-shrinking plots of land, with many forced to forage for food in agricultural areas instead.
That has led to a rise in human-elephant conflict. Between 2014 and 2020, the Yunnan government paid over $26 million in compensation for damage caused by elephants, state media reported.
Between 2013 to 2019, 41 people were trampled to death and 32 others were injured by Asian elephants in Yunnan, according to provincial authorities.