15 wild Asian elephants surprise residents on county roads after 400-km march northward
Published: May 28, 2021 09:03 PM


Residents in a county in Southwest China's Yunnan Province got a big surprise, as 15 wild Asian elephants suddenly appeared in their neighborhood on Thursday night. They were warned not to get close to or tease the animals to avoid being attacked. 

The elephants walked along a street under the dim road lights, with their huge bodies almost blocking the whole street, a video clip People's Daily uploaded on Weibo showed on Friday. The clip got more than 2.5 million views within five hours.

A local resident surnamed Jia, who owns a tire shop on Xi'e Road in Eshan county of Yuxi in Yunnan, told the Global Times on Friday that he saw the elephants from his window. 

"It was around 10 pm and I was still in my shop," Jia recalled. "I heard some noise on the street, and I looked out - wow, elephants!"

Though a bit scared, Jia soon ran to the street to take a closer look at the elephants, a highly uncommon sight in residential areas. "I was so curious; the nearest elephant was only a few meters away from me," he said to the Global Times by phone.

The route of the Asian elephants was marked by a netizen. Photo: Weibo

The route of the Asian elephants was marked by a netizen. Photo: Weibo

The 15 elephants came to Eshan county in Yuxi City, Yunnan on Thursday evening, and then entered safe areas (for humans) at 2 am on Friday, local authorities stated, saying the forest fire staff kept tracking the elephants' route with drones.

In a notice released on its website on Friday morning, Eshan government told the public to keep away from the elephants, and not to "closely watch, tease, hurt or maliciously drive them away" as Asian elephants may "attack humans out of defensive instinct when frightened."

These wild elephants had marched more than 400 kilometers since leaving their habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in southern Yunnan on April 16, local authorities said. During the 40-day "journey" they had damaged 842 mu (561,333 square meters) of crops, which had caused nearly 6.8 million yuan ($1.07 million) in financial losses, as well as severe inconvenience for local people, it added. But no injuries or casualties were caused to local residents. 

It's unusual that elephants left their habitat and headed north at this time, when the food for Asian elephants in the mountains and forests is scarcer in northern areas with higher altitudes, ecologists said.

The shrinking of rainforests in the elephants' home in Xishuangbanna may be a reason that led to the migration, said Zhang Li, a professor of ecology at Beijing Normal University.

"Another possibility was that this elephant herd lost their way during the march because of the shortage in experience of its leader," Chen Mingyong, a professor at School of Ecology and Environmental Science under Yunnan University, told news outlet on Friday.

As of Friday afternoon, the elephants were found near Eshan county, only 120 kilometers from Yunnan's capital city Kunming, where the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is scheduled to be held in October.

On Weibo, many users joked that these wild elephants are going to Kunming specially to attend the COP15. "Welcome, the 'elephant delegation!'" one user wrote on Friday. "Have a nice trip and be friendly to us humans."