In China, the mysterious escape of a herd of elephants worries the country

Fifteen Asian elephants have already traveled 500 kilometers from their nature reserve and are creating serious damage in the process. The reasons for this fugue still question scientists.

“Fifteen elephants, which swayed, on a web, web, spider web …” No one knows if the joyful patrol of these Asian elephants who fled their reserve to travel 500 kilometers hums, in their own jargon, this childish rhyme. In any case, these fifteen pachyderms have indeed been shaking the web of the global Internet for several weeks. The affair, to tell the truth, is not trivial: scientists are struggling to explain with certainty the causes of this exodus, and the animals are doing great damage in their path.

It all started in March, when 17 elephants, including three baby elephants, suddenly left their Mengyangzi reserve, in the autonomous prefecture of Xishuangbanna, deep in Yunnan province – a border region between Laos and Burma. “They started to leave the nature reserve and head north in March 2020 and arrived in Mojiang County.. This is where a baby elephant was born, in December. They stayed there for four months. Then the herd resumed its journey north in April ”, tell the World Becky Shu Chen, a consultant from the Zoological Society of London, who works with Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, elephant specialist from the Xishuangbanna reserve.

Two elephants then turn back, leaving the 15 remaining runaways to continue their journey. Hundreds of kilometers later, a new pause is needed: since Wednesday, June 3, the herd has been roaming the outskirts of the metropolis of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, which has several million inhabitants.

In recent weeks, this funny soap opera has stirred passions on Chinese social networks, South China Morning Post reports : “They probably want to attend the meeting of the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Kunmnig“, Laughs a surfer on the social network Weibo, reports the South China Morning Post. “Knock knock, is anyone there?” I want to eat a banana, or an apple, or an orange will do ”, commented another referring to a video capturing one of the elephants “knocking” on a villager’s door with its trunk. In The world, Becky Shu Chen adds that the population gave the troop a nickname: “They call it“ little broken nose ” [小断鼻, en chinois, mot-clé repris sur Weibo pour les désigner], because one of the baby elephants lost part of its trunk. “

Image from a video from the social network Weibo Weibo

Problem: in their mop, the animals have done a lot of damage. Chinese national television broadcast images of the herd crossing entire cities at night, stationing on major roads or sacking corn fields. During the last week of May, the elephants emptied a water tank and a farm’s grain reserves, according to television, which estimates the damage since the start of their journey at 6.8 million yuan (870,000 euros ), with 56 hectares of crops destroyed.

Image from the Weibo social network Weibo

Several hypotheses

Zoologists do not understand what caused the herd to leave their reserve for such a long distance. We know, however, that pachyderms have tended in recent years to move closer to villages, while the plants they usually eat are replaced by inedible species. Asian elephants are considered an endangered species and protected as such in China, with a population estimated at 300 heads, compared to less than 200 in the 1980s. They live in huge reserves in which they roam freely, in search of food and according to the seasons.

In The world, Becky Shu Chen hypothesizes: “(…) the increase in deforestation since the 1980s, to make way for agricultural land and mainly rubber plantations, has resulted in a reduction and fragmentation of their domain. Now they move through populated agricultural areas ”. For the researcher, elephants have adapted to this change in their environment: “The expansion of agricultural land and plantations on their territory is equivalent, for them, to the discovery of a huge confectionery in which they know they will find enormous quantities of easily accessible food. “

Drones and truck barriers

This peregrination is now closely monitored by the inhabitants and the authorities, equipped with drones in order to avoid any risk for the population.

In an attempt to channel them, the authorities are trying to entice them with food and block roads with trucks. On Sunday, the public channel CCTV broadcast images of a convoy of trucks parked along a small country road in an attempt to keep the herd away from densely populated areas. CCTV footage from the weekend also showed the pachyderms casually strolling through the streets of a village, leaving flattened trees and damaged garage doors behind.

Elephants advance on a road in Eshan, Yunan province, China, May 27, 2021. The image is from a video from a social network. ESHAN COUNTY FANG YUAN CAR CARE / REUTERS

“I was afraid”, told a local resident to CCTV, saying that she had come across an elephant “About three meters high”. “An elephant even ran into our wall, before running away”, explained the lady of a certain age, whose name was not disclosed.

A baby elephant on a road in Eshan, Yunan province, China, May 27, 2021. The image is from a video from a social network. ESHAN COUNTY FANG YUAN CAR CARE / REUTERS

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