Asian elephant herd heads back home after 17-month odyssey
Published: Aug 09, 2021 08:12 PM
Aerial photo taken on June 13, 2021 shows a herd of wild Asian elephants in Shijie Township of Yimen County, Yuxi City, southwest China's Yunnan Province.Photo:Xinhua

Aerial photo taken on June 13, 2021 shows a herd of wild Asian elephants in Shijie township of Yimen county, Yuxi, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Photo:Xinhua

After almost a year and a half of marvelous travel, a herd of 14 stray wild Asian elephants, who left home as part of a bigger group and wandered more than 500 kilometers in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, have finally crossed the Yuanjaing River, getting ready for their trip back home.

The much-anticipated return won cheers from thrilled netizens. Experts reached by the Global Times said that the breakthrough can be largely attributed to the effective guidance of local wildlife authorities. They predicted the herd will continue to head south for its original habitat, where most of the elephant habitats are located.  

The elephants were guided by the special work team to cross the Yuanjiang River through a bridge and arrived safely on the river's south bank on the evening of Sunday, marking a decisive breakthrough in the long migration of the herd, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

To make way for the giant animals, local authorities have restricted traffic and lights near the river, Caixin reported. From the surveillance camera provided by the provincial forest fire brigade, the elephants were seen lined up one after another strolling across the bridge, with trucks parked alongside to block potential interference. 

The herd is now in a forest in Yuxi, which is 26 kilometers away from its southern neighbor city of Pu'er, which they left in April during their northbound migration. All of them are in good condition and pose no threat to humans, local officials said. 

The work team will continue to guide the herd back to its original habitat in the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve, while ensuring its safety and health, local authorities said. 

"The return of the elephants has a lot to do with the active interventions by local governments, which closely followed the herd's movement and guided the way using combined measures, while protecting the animals from harm," Sun Quanhui, a scientist from the World Animal Protection Organization, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Drones have been deployed to monitor the herd at a height of 300 meters, said Yang Xiangyu, head of the special work team at the provincial forest fire brigade.

Salted corn was also loaded to lure the elephants to travel on the right direction, which can also ensure their health, Yang added.

Zhang Li, a wildlife biologist and professor of mammal conservation at Beijing Normal University, believed the herd will continue to migrate south and enter Pu'er or Xishuangbanna, as most of the natural habitats suitable for elephants are located in the area. 

Temperatures dropping in the fall and winter will not be a problem for the herd, Zhang told the Global Times on Monday, adding that a number of factors, including the location of sparse woodland, grassland, farmland and villages must be considered together to predict the direction and habitats of the herd. 

The ''elephant exodus'' began in March 2020 when the herd left Xishuangbanna and embarked on an extraordinary northbound trek. They started with 16 members, with three leaving the group and heading back, and a new one born on the journey. 

So far, the elephants have set foot in at least five cities in Yunnan, including the capital city of Kunming.