China’s herd of wandering elephants on the move again after day’s rest

Authorities monitoring herd’s journey and preparing to evacuate villages if necessary

Drone footage released by Chinese state media shows a herd of elephants, including a young calf, taking a nap in a forested area of Kunming in China’s south-western Yunnan province. Video: Reuters

 

A roaming herd of 15 wild elephants is on the move again after resting for a day in a patch of forest on the outskirts of the city of Kunming in southwest China, resuming a year-long, 500km trek that has captured the public’s imagination.

Drone photographs taken on Monday by the provincial forest fire brigade showed members of the herd sleeping in a clearing in the middle of a forest in the district of Jinning, which has been hit by heavy rain and thunderstorms.

The elephants began moving again on Tuesday morning, prompting a fresh round of activity by authorities, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Amid fears the elephants could encroach upon human settlements, tracking teams are working around the clock to monitor their movements. More than 400 emergency response personnel have also been deployed.

Chen Fei, director of the State Forestry and Grassland Administration’s Asian Elephant Research Centre, said they were watching closely to see if the herd resumes its northward trajectory, and would evacuate villages if necessary, CCTV said.

The herd began its journey northwards more than a year ago, travelling from a designated elephant protection zone in Xishuangbanna, near China’s border with Myanmar.

The space available for China’s last remaining native elephant community has gradually shrunk over the years, with the tropical forests of Xishuangbanna replaced with banana, tea or rubber plantations or used to plant lucrative raw materials for traditional Chinese medicine.

Wildlife authorities are struggling to understand why the group of – at the time –16 elephants went on the move last year. According to Xinhua News Agency, in November, they arrived in Pu’er in Yunnan, where a female elephant gave birth to a baby, and settled in place for five months before starting to walk again on April 16th.

A week later, two left the group, leaving 15 to continue their odyssey to the north. The group now appears to be back on the right track, heading southwest, although on Monday authorities reported one male elephant was traced away from the group, 4km to the northeast.

The travels of the elephants, first detected leaving their natural habitat in March 2020, has captivated Chinese social media, although their at times destructive presence has caused at least 6.8 million yuan (€873,000) in damage, according to state media.– Reuters/Guardian