Wild elephant herd on the loose in China continues to wreak havoc, misleading experts

A herd of wild Asian elephants rested on Monday in a local forest in Kunming city, capital of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, on their way north.

The group began to rest around 07:00 local time when they slowly stretched out on the ground, explained Chen Shengyao, a staff member who monitors the herd of elephants in the Yunnan wildfire brigade.

Chen said it was the first time they saw all the elephants within the herd lie down to sleep together in the 12 days since they started monitoring the herd. Before this collective rest, there were always three or four elephants sleeping while three or four other elephants kept watch nearby.

Herd of elephants walks on the road to Eshan, China, in an image taken from social media, May 27, 2021. Eshan County Fang Yuan Car Care Center / via REUTERS

In order not to wake or disturb them, Chen said the monitoring team will adjust the drone to the maximum height 350 meters from the pack each time they rest.

According to experts, elephants generally cannot lie down for long due to their heavy weight, to prevent their internal organs from having problems with pressure.

A herd of wild Asian elephants is found in E'shan County in southwest China's Yunnan Province (Hu Chao / Xinhua via AP)
A herd of wild Asian elephants is found in E’shan County in southwest China’s Yunnan Province (Hu Chao / Xinhua via AP)

One male elephant of the 15 wild elephants left the herd on Sunday and found itself in a forest on Monday, about 4 kilometers as the crow flies northeast of the herd, according to a command at the site that tracks the elephants.

In March last year, 16 elephants from the herd left their nature reserve in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. In November 2020, the herd arrived in Mojiang County, Pu’er City, where one of the elephants gave birth to a calf. On April 16 of this year, the 17 elephants entered Yuanjiang County in Yuxi City. A week later, two of the elephants separated from the herd and returned to Mojiang County. The rest continued their journey north.

These elephants they traveled approximately 500 km from their forest home before arriving in Kunming, the Yunnan provincial capital, on Wednesday night.

After the herd of elephants left the reserve, local authorities began a 24-hour monitoring scheme, mobilizing about 410 people and 120 vehicles, flew 14 drones to track and escort the herd and ensure the safety of the animals. Local authorities have also fed them two tons of food, while evacuating local residents and vehicles to make way for the herd on the way.

Asian elephants are under first-class state protection in China, where they are mainly found in Yunnan. Thanks to improved protection, the wild elephant population in the province has risen to about 300, up from 193 in the 1980s.

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