A herd of elephants left their home in March of 2020, and have been roaming free for the last 15 months. In that time they have travelled 500 km (300 miles) roughly the equivalent of the distance from the most eastern to most western point in the UK.
The group of 16 left their original home for unknown reasons and authorities are making no progress in working out why they are roaming the country or what they are looking for. Life is continuing within the herd, with a baby having been born during their epic trek.
Many workers and emergency services have been following the progress, and steering the elephants away from problem areas where possible.
The journey started in a wildlife reserve near the southern border with Laos. It is perhaps a surprise to many people that elephants still live in small numbers within China. This is surprising as much of the elephant poaching that has decimated elephant populations in eastern and western Africa over the last decade is to feed the Chinese demand for Ivory.
As of Wednesday, they reached the outskirts of a city called Kumming. This is a city that I had not heard of – I am unsure about the more general knowledge of this place, but it has a population of 8.5 million. This means that the city is comparable in population to London.
As you can see, the animals look quite out of place here.
Elephants are part of the natural wildlife of china though populations were pushed to local extinction millennia ago and continue to face local extinctions from time to time. However, surrounded by countries with large elephant populations, it is relatively easy for the elephant to return. Furthermore, despite the huge population of china, and the bustling cities, there are also large parts of this huge country which have low human densities.. As such in theory china could support many more than their current elephant population of around 300.
This journey has also caused problems along its route. It is estimated that this herd of elephants have done around 1 million dollars of damage, to crops and other human property.
It is encouraging that the animals have not simply been killed. I certainly hope that the herd finds what it is looking for soon and that this herd can return to living a wild existence – attracting less attention. We can hope, however, that where ever they settle, their celebrity status stays with them and encourages a more conservation minded approach to wilderness in China.