Elephant herd that packed trunks for China odyssey continues to grip nation

By Jesús Centeno

Beijing, Jun 16 (EFE).- A herd of 15 wild elephants that embarked on a spontaneous odyssey away from its native forest habitat, venturing through towns and villages under the watchful eye of local farmers, continues to enchant internet users, local authorities and wildlife specialists 500 kilometers into the seemingly open-ended trip.

The Asian elephants left the tropical forests of Xishuangbanna in Yunnan province, southwest China, at the end of May and headed north for no apparent reason.

The wandering creatures have since trod through a number of populated areas, grazing on crops and resting in woodland. Local authorities tracking the herd have closed roads to facilitate its journey and have used bananas, pineapples and maize to lead the elephants away from more densely populated urban areas.

In recent weeks, local media speculated that the herd had made its way to Yunnan’s provincial capital Kunming, population 6.6 million, but the elephants instead swung southwest and came to rest in neighboring Yuxi, where they remain today.

An errant elephant is said to be 17 kilometers away from the rest of the herd, China’s state CCTV reported.

The herd has remained in Yuxi for the time being, awaiting the return of the solitary explorer, or perhaps simply because the climate is similar to Xishuangbanna, according to scientists cited by CCTV.

State media said the number of Asian elephants in Yunnan province was estimated to be around 300, up from 193 in 1980. Although the animals are afforded the highest level of protection status in China, there are debates that their sudden decision to migrate could be a response to human activity.

Pan Wenjing, deputy head of the forest and oceans unit with Greenpeace East Asia, told Efe that it was hard to know what sparked this sudden migration, but highlighted that habitat loss presented a challenge for elephant conservation in China.

“In recent years, because poaching has gone, the population of elephants has grown,” she said.  “Meanwhile the natural forest coverage in the area decreased due to the expansion of human activities.

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