After plundering the crops and raiding a retirement house, a herd wild Asian elephants wandering hundreds of miles across southern China appears to be returning home.
The group was led across Yuanjiang River in Yunnan Province, using drones and bananas. They are now approximately 100 miles from the nature reserve that it abandoned a year ago.
The elephants have been on an epic trek that both baffled scientists and drew attention to the delicate balance China is trying to strike with conservation efforts.
According to the state news agency Xinhua, China’s wild elephant population has nearly doubled since 1980s, when it was 180. It is now at 300 by 2021. Elephants were also more comfortable entering human communities after the ban on hunting.
However, their habitat has been lost to rapid urban development, new transportation infrastructure, and commercial farmland. This has led to a peaceful coexistence with humans.
The trail of elephant slapstick trouble was captured on video by drones that were assigned to monitor them and the vast network of surveillance cameras in the country.
The elephant adventures aren’t over, as another herd wild elephants is on the move.
17 of them had to leave Xishuangbanna’s nature reserve and moved to the nearby Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens, where the Chinese Academy of Sciences manages over 600 acres of rainforest home to thousands of plant species.
Also, prime territory for elephants to snack on.
Ahimsa Campos Arceiz, a professor at the botanical gardens and an expert on human-elephant conflict, stated that an elephant is an eating machine.
The average Asian elephant is 11 feet tall and 11,000 pounds in weight, and he or she lives on grasses, bamboos, wild bananas, and palms.
Campos-Arceiz stated that a normal elephant living in the wild would spend 17-18 hours eating. They do that because it’s what they do.
This adds up to a lot more bananas and bamboo. The herd must keep moving to satisfy its hunger.
He explained that they will be “on the move constantly” They can’t spend too much time at a location because they will eat all the resources.
This is the heart of China’s conservation efforts: the elephants continue to move, but their habitat has diminished substantially.
Campos-Arceiz stated that elephants and humans share the same landscape when elephants and people live together.
The challenge lies in creating a safe environment for both.
Professor Yong says that the key to habitat conservation and restoration is not just to think about elephant habitat, but also to find ways for people and elephants to coexist.
He stated that conservation doesn’t have to be expensive for those who live near wildlife.
The second herd of elephants from the second herd seemed to be content to rest in the botanical gardens, where drones captured images that showed them swimming in the mud and taking a break under the canopy.
The wanderings of the herd captured the attention of viewers around the world and were popular online via livestreams, night-vision and security cameras. One security camera showed part the herd passing a car dealership.
The most striking images of the elephants playing together, however, were some of their individual poses. This is a rare view even for those who are experts in wild life.
It is not yet clear if the second herd will embark on a longer journey.