A herd of 15 wild elephants that walked 500 kilometers (300 miles) from a nature reserve in China’s mountain southwest was extending the principal city of Kunming on Wednesday as authorities rushed to try to keep them out of populated areas.
China’s wildlife authorities say they don’t know why the herd left a nature reserve last year near the city of Pu’er, an area famous for tea farming. The group consisted of 16 animals, but the government said two had returned home, and a baby was born during the walk.
Authorities blocked traffic on the roads while the elephants crossed, set up barriers, and used food as bait to keep them away from Kunming and other densely populated areas.
On Wednesday, the herd was in Yuxi, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Kunming, a city of 7 million people, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said images taken by drones used to monitor the herd showed six females and three adult males, three young and three calves.
Chen Mingyong, an expert on Asian elephants cited by Xinhua News Agency, said the incident was the furthest migration of wild elephants recorded in China. Chen said it was possible their leader was “inexperienced and led the team in the wrong direction.”
A 360-person task force with 76 cars and nine drones is tracking the elephants, Xinhua said.
Last week, elephants roamed the streets of Eshan town for six hours after residents were warned to stay indoors, and the damage caused by elephants to farmland is estimated at 6.8 million yuan (US$1.1 million), according to Xinhua.