It has been a long journey for the wandering herd of elephants. From their humble home of 241,000 hectares, they decided to stray and find what is it for them in the wild. From breaking into villagers' homes to giving birth while on the road, it has been an epic journey.
The elephants are now on the final stage of their journey home, Chinese officials said last week, after wandering hundreds of kilometers from their natural reserve. The wandering herd has been travelling for 17 months and it has been a peaceful run. It was no ordinary journey since it was the first time that a herd of elephants were wandering that long, since these animals do not usually roam that far away from their natural reserve.
Reasons Behind the Incidents of Migration
The unfamiliar behavior of the wild elephants was new to the government, resulting them to investigate and find answers as to why these migrations are happening.
One factor is the increasing elephant population, which means more competition for food. The province's elephant population has doubled from the past three decades, to over 300, thanks to Chinese conservation initiatives. Migrating to a new location and starting again might be advantageous to the herd and encourage increased reproduction. Due to a lack of room for themselves, elephants are forced to seek food in human towns and farms.
Food was also short due to a severe drought that occurred for a year prior to the elephants' departure.
Others have pointed out that deforestation and encroaching agriculture have diminished elephant habitats outside of protected areas in China over the years. Authorities have tried to strengthen forest safeguards. However, a higher forest canopy blocks more sunlight, resulting in fewer edible plants growing in the lowlands. This resulted to less accessible food for elephants within nature reserves, according to Prof Campos-Arceiz.
The Journey Back Home: Yunnan Elephants
By early June, the herd had traveled more than 500 kilometers (about the length of New York State) from home to Kunming, the farthest any Yunnan wild elephant had ever traveled. Officials were concerned about the elephants' survival and dispatched thousands of soldiers to the area to assist the elephants in crossing securely. They enticed the elephants with food, built pathways, and sprayed the area so that the elephants would feel cooler, and their health would be ensured.
Although authorities were doing their best to help with the journey of these wild elephants, the elephants were not following the bait. Instead of a 30 kilometer road ahead, it became a 143 kilometers travel, due to their stubbornness and their wandering mentality. On the 8th of August, the herd finally crossed the Yuanjiang river bridge. Local media celebrated the commencement of the final stage of their trek, even though they were still 200 kilometers away from the Xishuangbanna natural reserve.
Authorities pledged to build "a unified protection management system" and take up habitat conservation and restoration after spending millions of yuan escorting the elephant's home. The creation of an Asian elephant national park has also been hastened.
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