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The elephant’s long journey adds to its urgency in China’s defense

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A group of wild elephants roaming the countryside and towns southwest of Yunnan province in China has caused a stir among online enthusiasts and intensified the country’s efforts to protect the wildlife habitat.

Last spring, 16 Asian elephants began to move north from nature reserves in Xishuangbanna, a tropical region that runs through Myanmar and Laos to the south of the region.

By June, the group, which had dropped to 15 and a newborn calf, had traveled 500km, near Yunnan’s capital, Kunming. In doing so, they became patriotic.

Chinese journalists monitor the herd on a daily basis, sharing the most recent episodes of photographs of elephants walking on tea plantations and on highways.

Cars and a group of government officials have been set up to hand over the elephant. On the same day this month, authorities sent 360 emergency responders and police, 76 police cars and garbage trucks, nine diggers and nine drones and fed 16 tons of elephants, according to Xinhua state news agency.

While some Chinese users like Twitter’s Weibo microblog on the platform have noticed the damage elephants have caused by smashing doors in search of food, many look more closely at the pictures of sleeping baby elephants surrounded by their mothers or recognized the wisdom of creation.

In one shared video, an elephant climbs up the front door of a village and uses its trunk to open the tapes for the cows to drink.

In one case, an elephant calf appeared to be intoxicated from eating sown wheat, prompting a local singer to compose an Yunnan elephant song.

When the team arrived in Kunming, Chinese experts were quick to discuss the causes of the migration and how to deal with the elephants roaming around the city 8m.

Zhao Huaidong, a former head of the IFAW elephant protection project at Xishuangbanna, which teaches locals how to catch elephants, said the migration of northern groups “is very unusual” because it did not follow a stable path.

“Over the past 20 years, the protection of Asian elephants has meant that their numbers have increased but the decline of virgin forests outside protected areas has reduced their habitat and caused elephants to spread to areas where people are more active,” he said.

A closer look at the elephant’s habitat comes as Kunming prepares for the UN Biodiversity Conference in October. Environmentalists hope that China will use the opportunity to strengthen its commitment to protect wildlife that is on the verge of expanding its natural reserves.

Asian wild elephants live near Kunming, China

The elephant’s ability to navigate unscathed villages represents a measure of China’s natural resources compared to the past, environmentalists said © via Reuters

Asian elephants receive the most complete protection in China. Centuries ago, livestock roamed as far as central China, but in recent years, about 300 elephants in the country have settled in Yunnan province.

Authorities have launched a campaign to ban the animals from Kunming. They have blocked roads and installed pineapples, sweetcorn and other foods to attract animals away from humans.

Zhou Jinfeng, director of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, warned that attempting to repatriate elephants could be a misnomer, and could lead to greater risk of human trafficking.

“My goal is not to completely stop their migration but to pave the way for migration,” he said.

According to Zhou, the tolerance of the villagers and the cruelty of the elephants changed from the past as well as an official symbol of the protected species. “It’s something that has given me relief in particular,” he said.

Extras quoted by Emma Zhou in Beijing

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