Migrating Elephants in China

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This summer (2021), a group of wandering elephants in China’s Yunnan Province have been the center of news for many animal lovers. It is an unusual sight for many people in China to see elephants wandering around the streets. However, when a bird’s eye view of the sleeping herd is presented to an audience, the extraordinary scene of the baby elephants cuddling up to their parents makes many peoples’ hearts melt.

The group of elephants left a wildlife reserve in the southwest of Yunnan province more than a year ago and moved north to the outskirts of the provincial capital, Kunming, causing quite a lot of destruction.

On Saturday, July 3, 2021, the elephants were spotted in Shijie township in the city of Yuxi, more than 8 kilometers (5 miles) southwest of the Kunming suburb where they had arrived the previous week. The direction of their travel was thought to be a good sign since authorities hoped to lead them back to their original home in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture southwest of Kunming.

Authorities attempted to keep a safe distance between the elephants and residents by blocking roads and luring the large mammals away from villages with food. Despite that, the herd of 15 raided farms, strolled down urban streets, and foraged for snacks in villages and even retirement homes. Interestingly, one of the younger elephants that raided a village with some other members, found almost 200g of rice wine and decided to drown itself in it. The intoxicated elephant overslept and was left behind by the big group. When this particularly playful elephant woke up from its rice wine sleep, it was not terrified of being separated from its group. Instead, he took his time wandering around the village and occasionally taking baths. It was not until a few days later that he was able to reunite with his herd.

Evan Sun, wildlife campaign manager with World Animal Protection, said possible reasons could include lack of a food supply, a rise in the elephant population, and, most importantly, a loss of habitat.”

— Evan Sun, World Animal Protection

When I first saw this news, I was obsessed with one question: Why were the elephants migrating? Out of curiosity, I decided to research the situation and uncover this mystery for myself. It remains unclear why the elephants embarked on their trek, although Evan Sun, wildlife campaign manager with World Animal Protection, said possible reasons could include lack of a food supply, a rise in the elephant population, and, most importantly, a loss of habitat.

 This news got me thinking about the environment we live in today. For the past couple of years, I have heard continuous conversations in school, and in my everyday life, about environmental concerns. Two years ago, as an 11-year-old student, and rather innocent, I had thought that awareness of the problem would have been enough to drive solutions to these issues. However, I have seen many reports about the compounded damage to the environment — from dolphins hunted in Japan to elephants migrating for no known reason. In fact, the Coronavirus global pandemic seems to be like a global reset for the environment, stopping some factories’ continuous pollution. The pollution rates have dropped immensely all over the world during the last year and this should act as a warning of how our planet is being treated.

 The image of the elephants migrating through the streets was somewhat amusing, but isn’t it sad that their migration may have been caused by human selfishness? Some simple actions that we could do to help the environment might be to plant more trees to create better air quality, or create more habitats for wildlife. What do you think?