A gang of wild elephants marching through the villages and towns of China’s southwestern Yunnan province has generated a frenzy among online fans and added urgency to the country’s efforts to protect it. natural habitat of animals.
Last spring, 16 Asian elephants began marching north from a nature reserve in Xishuangbanna, a tropical region bordering Myanmar and Laos in the south of the province.
By June, the group, now up to 15 years old and including a new calf, had traveled 500 km, near Yunnan’s capital, Kunming. In the process, they become a national obsession.
Chinese media monitored the gang on a daily basis, sharing the latest versions of drones and security camera footage of elephants working through tea plantations and on roads.
A fleet of vehicles and an army of officials were mobilized to escort the elephants. One day this month, authorities sent 360 emergency response and police personnel, 76 police vehicles and dump trucks, five excavators and nine drones and fed 16 tons of food to the elephants, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. .
Although some users of the Weibo microblogging platform, similar to China’s Twitter, have noticed the damage to elephants inflicted by smashing doors in search of food, most have focused on photos of sleeping sleeping elephant calves. around his mother or they noticed the intelligence of the creatures.
In a widely shared video, an elephant walks up to the front door of a village house and uses his bathroom to turn on a tap so the band can drink.
In another, an elephant calf appeared to be intoxicated by eating fermented grains, inspiring a local musician to write a song about the drunken elephants of Yunnan.
As the band approached Kunming, Chinese experts urgently discussed the precise causes of the migration and how to deal with the elephants working on the outskirts of an 8m city.
Zhao Huaidong, former director of the IFAW Asian Elephant Protection project in Xishuangbanna, which educates local farmers on how to safely handle elephants, called the migration of the herd’s north “very unusual” because it did not. do not follow a fixed itinerary.
“Over the last 20 years, the protection of Asian elephants has meant that their numbers have increased but declining virgin forest outside protected areas has reduced their living space and caused elephants to spread into areas where man is active, ”he said.
Renewed attention to elephant habitats comes as Kunming prepares to host the UN Conference on Biodiversity in October. Environmentalists hope China will seize the opportunity to step up efforts to protect endangered endangered wildlife and expand nature reserves
Asian elephants receive the highest level of protection from China’s species. Hundreds of years ago, herds wandered far into what is now central China, but in recent decades the country’s population of about 300 elephants has been limited to Yunnan province.
Local authorities have launched a campaign to keep the animals away from Kunming. They blocked roads and placed traces of pineapple, sweet corn and other foods to keep animals out of densely populated areas.
Zhou Jinfeng, director of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, warned that attempts to push back elephants would be the wrong approach, and could lead to a greater risk of encounters with humans.
“My proposal is that we should not completely stop their migration, but rather establish migration corridors,” he said.
According to Zhou, the tolerance of the farmers and the lack of violence towards elephants was a change marked by the past and a positive sign of acceptance of the protected species. “It’s something that made me especially educated,” he said.
More information from Emma Zhou in Beijing