Chinese authorities are attempting to turn back a marauding herd of 15 elephants, which arrived on the outskirts of Yunnan Province’s capital Wednesday after traveling for hundreds of miles up from the South.
“It is very rare for them to travel such a distance to the North,” Chen Mingyong, an Asian elephant expert with Yunnan University, told Xinhua News of the incredible journey, which he claims is the longest ever recorded in China.
The wayward group, which includes three calves, originally resided in a nature reserve near Pu’er. However, the endangered animals embarked on a 300-mile migration along highways and through crop fields over the past months, reportedly incurring $1.1 million in economic losses.
On Wednesday, the rampaging pachyderms were a mere 12 miles from the Yunnan capital of Kunming, which houses around 7 million people, the Telegraph reported. Their encroachment came despite officials erecting roadblocks and using pineapples and other foods to lure the giant beasts away from civilization. Meanwhile, residents of Eshan County were ordered to shelter indoors last week as the plus-sized pillagers shambled about the town for six hours.
A team of 360 people with 76 cars and nine drones had also been surveilling the herd constantly throughout their long march, Xinhua reported.
It’s unclear why the elephants embarked on such an epic pilgrimage, however, Mingyong speculated that the “chief of the herd lacks experience and led the whole group astray.”
However, the tuskers could have been foraging for food amid a shortage of edible plants in their native habitat, which was reportedly caused by an explosion in the number of elephants, NBC reported. Indeed, thanks to conservation initiatives, Yunnan Province’s pachyderm population has skyrocketed from 193 in the 1980s to around 300 animals today.
Unfortunately, this population boom has exacerbated conflicts between elephants and people as the animals increasingly plunder villages for food. Thankfully, it is currently illegal to kill Asian elephants in China.
As for the most recent rampage, Mingyong says, “All we can do at present is to issue early warnings and evacuate residents in time to minimize losses.”