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A herd of 16 Asian elephants roaming the villages and towns of southwest China’s Yunnan province has become a national obsession. It has accelerated the country’s efforts to protect the animals’ natural habitat.

A male elephant, which left 12 days ago, is now about 18.8 km from the herd. All 15 elephants, including a newborn baby elephant, are safe and sound.

The herd that has been on the road for a year and three months in China’s Yunnan province has caused extensive damage along the way.

Chinese media checked the herd daily, sharing the latest drone and security camera footage.

For more than a month, officials sent police officers to accompany the herd, evacuated roads to help their way, and used food to divert them from invading populated neighborhoods.

Starting May 27, the herd had ravaged 842 acres of farmland in 40 days, according to Beijing News. The cost will be refunded to the villagers after the damage evaluation, said the Yunnan Forestry and Grassland Administration director.

Zhou Jinfeng, director of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, said villagers’ tolerance and lack of violence against elephants had marked a change from the past and a positive signal for acceptance of protected species.

The conflict between humans and elephants in Yunnan has long been a problem. According to Beijing News, there were 4,600 incidents between 2011 and 2019, with more than 50 injured.

Asian elephants are primarily found in Yunnan and receive the highest level of species protection in China. Due to increased protection efforts, the population of wild elephants in the province has risen to nearly 300, up from 193 in the 1980s.

Because in the forests in southwestern Yunnan province, where the elephants come from, rubber and tea plantations have expanded, large areas of forests have disappeared. Habitat fragmentation has led to the separation and isolation of herds, through the construction of hydropower plants and highways that block the old migration routes.

[Photo from Pixabay]