A runaway elephant that was part of a herd trekking 500km north in the past few months has been captured and returned to its original habitat in Mengyangzi Nature Reserve, southern Yunnan province.
The herd of 15 – originally 17 – elephants left their home months ago in a search of new habitat and entered the outskirts of the provincial capital Kunming last month. On June 6, one elephant left the herd, while others gradually headed back south.
The elephant has travelled more than 190km on its own for the last 32 days, relying on food prepared by local governments or going into villagers’ homes to feast, an official notice from the Yunnan provincial government said on Wednesday night.
“Since Monday, the elephant has entered a community in Yuxi city, only 300 metres from the Jinhong Highway and 200 metres from the Kunyu intercity rail, posing a high risk for public security,” the notice said.
To ensure the safety of both the elephant and the public, authorities anaesthetised the elephant and captured it. It was returned to Mengyangzi on Wednesday afternoon.
The rest of the herd is still in the forests around Yuxi, being closely monitored by the local government.
The lone elephant is a 10-year-old adult male about 1.9 metres tall and weighing 1.8 tonnes. Chen Mingyong, a professor with the Asian elephant research centre of Yunnan University, said in the government notice that it‘s normal for adult elephant males to leave their herd in search of a mate.
This elephant has been travelling on its own for a month, with no luck of finding a suitable habitat and relying on manual feeding, which isn‘t good for its health, Chen said.
Shen Qingchong, an engineer at the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve, said by moving it back to Mengyangzi, they hope to reduce human interference and help it adapt to its natural environment.
Previously, an elephant researcher told the South China Morning Post that in the past 20 years, suitable habitat for Asian elephants in Yunnan has been reduced by 40 per cent as land has been turned into plantations for economic crops such as tea and rubber.
He suggested that local governments need to devise a method for long-term restoration of local natural habitat.