Already famous at home, China’s wandering elephants are now becoming international stars. Major global media are chronicling the herd’s more than yearlong, 500-kilometer (300-mile) trek from their home in a wildlife reserve in mountainous southwest Yunnan province to the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kunming.
Social media is full of praise for the herd
Twitter and YouTube are full of clips of their various antics, particularly those of two calves who slipped into an irrigation ditch and had to be helped out by older members of the group.
The elephants have been trending for days on China’s Weibo microblogging service with photos of the group sleeping attracting 25,000 posts and 200 million views Monday night.
$1 million damages to the crops
They’ve raided farms for food and water, visited a car dealership and even showed up at a retirement home, where they poked their trunks into some of the rooms, prompting one elderly man to hide under his bed.
While no animals or people have been hurt, reports put damage to crops at more than USD 1 million.
It was a big joint family initially
Sixteen animals were originally in the group, but the government says two returned home and a baby was born during the walk. The herd is now composed of six female and three male adults, three juveniles and three calves, according to official reports.
Epic journey remains a mystery
What exactly motivated them to make the epic journey remains a mystery, although they appear to be especially attracted to corn, tropical fruit and other crops that are tasty, plentiful and easy to obtain in the lush tropical region that is home to about 300 of the animals. Others have speculated their leader may be simply lost.
Asian elephants are loyal to their home ranges unless there have been disturbances, loss of resources or development, in which case they may move out.
Top level of protection
Elephants are given the top level of protection in China, allowing their numbers to steadily increase even as their natural habitat shrinks, and requiring farmers and others to exercise maximum restraint when encountering them. Government orders have told people to stay inside and not to gawk at them or use firecrackers or otherwise attempt to scare them away.
As of Tuesday, the herd remained on the outskirts of Kunming, a city of 7 million, with one of the males having moved away on his own, creating even more excitement — and worry — for those attempting to keep tabs on them.
A statement Monday from a provincial command center set up to monitor the group said the elephants appeared to be resting, while more than 410 emergency response personnel and police personnel, scores of vehicles and 14 drones were deployed to monitor them.
Asian elephants, the continent’s largest land animal, are declining overall, with less than 50,000 left in the wild. Habitat loss and resulting human-wildlife conflict are their biggest threats, along with poaching and population isolation.
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