A road trip like no other

By YANG WANLI | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-11 10:27
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Appetizing crops on a farm by the roadside prove too tempting for some members of the elephant herd as they move through the town of Shuanghe in Jinning district, on the outskirts of Kunming, on June 4. XINHUA

They've trekked 500 kilometers from the southern fringes of Yunnan province and along the way they've captivated the people of China and beyond. The herd of wild Asian elephants that have made their way northward to the approaches of Kunming now have their every move watched-by forestry officials and legions of social media users.

It all began late last year when 17 elephants left their natural habitat in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture, in Yunnan's south. Of the 17, two elephants gave the group's travel plans a rethink after stumbling upon some alcohol in a village and returned to the herd's old habitat. Later, another male also left.

On Sunday afternoon, another member of the herd seemingly tired of the northward expedition and stayed behind in the Anning district on Kunming's outskirts. The rest moved on without him to Yimen county in the city of Yuxi on Wednesday.

During their extraordinary march, no injuries have been reported among the herd as authorities marshal extraordinary resources to monitor them and keep them away from residential areas.

Local authorities in the places visited by the elephants have carried out comprehensive response plans to ensure the safety of both humans and the elephants. Forest fire brigade and public security departments at the provincial and township levels have sent teams to track elephants round the clock.

The Asian elephant, which is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species as endangered, enjoys Class-A protection in China-the same level as the giant panda.

Yunnan is the sole habitat of wild Asian elephants in China. Due to determined protection efforts in recent decades, their numbers have risen from about 170 in the 1970s to around 300, according to the Yunnan Provincial Forestry and Grassland Administration.

The province has established 11 nature reserves covering about 510,000 hectares. The number of counties with Asian elephants in Yunnan has risen from seven in 2017 to eight. Last year, 7,500 hectares were transformed into new habitat for the animals.

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