Maybe they are looking for better food. Maybe they got lost. Maybe they are just adventurous and enjoy themselves.
No one is completely sure. But for some reason, a herd of 15 Asian elephants has trampled across China for more than a year, traveling more than 300 kilometers through villages, forest farms – and from Wednesday 21:55 the outskirts of the city of Kunming , population 8.5 million.
Since the departure from the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve last spring, on the far southwestern border of China with Laos, the elephants have been trotting down the middle of a narrow provincial street. past a shuttered car dealer and greedy residents. They remained in the grain stores from fermentation, which led to reports of at least one drunk elephant. They devoured trucks corn and pineapples omitted by government officials in an attempt to lead them to less populated areas – and then continued on their way.
According to experts, this is the furthest known movement of elephants in China. Where they go next, no one knows. When do they stop? Also unclear.
‘It reminds me of the movie’ Nomadland, ‘”said Becky Shu Chen, a consultant at the Zoological Society of London who studied interactions between elephants and humans.
What is certain is that they captivated Chinese social media, shocked local officials and caused more than $ 1.1 million in damage. They also puzzled elephant researchers.
Experts call on the public to temper their joy with the awareness of ecological significance, in a country where zealous enthusiasm for conservation has not necessarily coincided with the calculation of what it would mean to live with more elephants .
“It’s part of the deal,” he said. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, a principal investigator at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, specializing in elephants. “We want to preserve elephants and tigers. But we do not have 10,000 square kilometers to place these elephants and tigers and say, ‘Be happy there, do not worry.’
The trip apparently began in March last year, when, according to state media, 16 elephants moved north from the nature reserve to the city of Pu’er in southern Yunnan province.
Campos-Arceiz said movement is normal for elephants, with a large “house range” to which they are looking for food. It was therefore only relatively recently that researchers and government officials began to realize how far this herd had wandered. In April, the elephants were spotted in Yuanjiang Province, about 230 kilometers north of the nature reserve.
According to officials, some elephants then turned around, while others were born again. The group now consists of 15 animals.
It is not clear what prompted the elephants to leave their home. But after conservation efforts, the Chinese elephant population has grown over the past few years, from less than 200 several decades ago to about 300, according to official statistics. (Researchers believe the actual numbers are unclear.) At the same time, deforestation has reduced their habitat.
According to Dr. Campos-Arceiz encouraged the growing proximity of the elephants to humans – and their strictly protected status – the animals. And they are smart: when they start crossing the boundaries of nature reserves and crossing into more populated areas, they discover that crops are more attractive than their usual forest rate.
“Elephants have learned there is so much food, it is so nutritious, it is so easy to harvest and it is safe,” said Dr. Campos-Arceiz said. “This means that elephants return to places where they have been absent for a long time.”
As a result, it is not surprising to see elephants wandering outside their usual habitat, he said, and the phenomenon is likely to continue as their population continues to grow. (In fact, Dr. Campos-Arceiz rescheduled an interview Wednesday night because he was in the dark in the Xishuangbanna Gardens, leaving behind another herd of elephants that meandered about 40 miles[40 km]from his home area.)
It still does not explain the long-distance movement of the ‘northern wild elephant herd’ as the other herd became known on social media.
“No idea,” said Dr. Campos-Arceiz said why the group still had to settle in one place. “Do not trust someone who gives a very clear answer.”
The absence of clarity did not dampen the public’s enjoyment of the long procession of the animals at all. Social media users chatted about videos of an older elephant rescuing a calf that had fallen into a gutter. They suggested that if the elephants were in a hurry, they would arrive in Beijing in time for the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th anniversary next month. Even Xinhua, the state news agency, jokingly referred to the herd as a ‘tour group’.
On Thursday, the hashtag “northern wild elephants’ buffet site” crashed on Weibo, a popular social media platform in China, after residents in a village near Kunming prepared loads of maize stalks for them.
Although the government acknowledges the entertainment of the public, the government has warned people to stay away from the animals and remind them that they can be dangerous. The stray herd has not yet caused any injuries to humans, but between 2011 and 2019, there were more than 50 victims involving Asian elephants. according to state media.
Local officials scrambled to draw up ’emergency plans for the accident and prevention of elephants’. They watched the elephants’ movements by drone and sent hundreds of workers to evacuate residents, set up emergency barriers and discuss 18 tons of food.
But there is no long-term plan yet.
In an ideal situation, Ms. Chen of the Zoological Society of London said the elephants would return to Xishuangbanna alone. But there is no guarantee: In India in the early 2000s, dozens of elephants wandered to a human-inhabited river island, and despite efforts to push them to uninhabited areas, they still roam nearby today as a “homeless pillow. ”
The best case, according to me. Chen, is that the herd would attract attention to raise awareness of the possibility of human-elephant conflict, which is likely to increase. Only by preparing people for reality, she would have said, will conservation efforts really succeed.
“What we need to learn is not how to solve the problem, but how to increase your tolerance,” she said. “How can we use this opportunity to make everyone aware of the issue of coexistence between humans and animals?”
Joy Dong contributed research.