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China’s Wandering Elephant Herd is Global Social Media Hit

A migrating herd of elephants roam through farmlands of Shuanghe Township, Jinning District of Kunming city in southwestern China's Yunnan Province, June 4, 2021.

Chinese state media report wildlife officials are increasingly concerned about a wandering herd of elephants in China’s southwest Yunnan Province that has captivated social media.

China state broadcast and print media report the herd has been around Shijie Township in the city of Yuxi, where it has rained for the past several days. Drone video and other video and pictures of the elephants splashing in puddles and playing in the mud have been shared with hundreds of millions of people on social media.

The herd of about 15 elephants has taken a more-than-500-kilometer journey from a nature reserve in Yunnan's mountainous southwest. State media reports one male elephant, which broke free from the herd five days ago, is now about 12 km from the rest of the herd, in a forest in Anning.

Wildlife officials in charge of monitoring the elephants say they are safe and healthy. But many officials have expressed concern about the damage they have done and could do in the future as they roam around suburban towns and cities.

The elephants have already done more than a $1 million in damage to crops and have damaged buildings and raided kitchens and pantries in residential areas looking for food. The officials say while not one has been hurt, the mere presence of wild elephants poses a threat to people, as an aroused elephant or group could easily trample people, especially children.

But Beijing Normal University mammal conservation and wildlife biologist Zhang Li told China’s Global Times, said elephants may be disturbing the public, but they are not acting maliciously. He said they are searching for permanent habitat, where they can eat and live in peace, and they just have not found the right spot.

Zhang called for better planning and creation and protection of elephant habitats within China’s national parks. He said elephant ecological corridors should be constructed to connect habitats so they can travel among them without encountering humans.

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