Endangered elephant in China returned to habitat after wandering alone for weeks

Asian elephants native to Yunnan Province, China, have been wandering the region for months. File Photo by NIU YX/EPA
Asian elephants native to Yunnan Province, China, have been wandering the region for months. File Photo by NIU YX/EPA

July 8 (UPI) -- A male elephant once part of an itinerant herd of pachyderms from southern Yunnan Province in China was tranquilized and returned to its native habitat, provincial authorities said.

The 10-year-old adult elephant that left Mengyangzi Nature Reserve with other members of its pack left the group June 6 and was seen near human settlements, the South China Morning Post reported Thursday.


"Since Monday, the elephant has entered a community in Yuxi city, only 300 meters from the Jinhong Highway and 200 meters from the Kunyu intercity rail, posing a high risk for public security," Yunnan province said, according to the report.

The elephant was administered anesthesia before being captured and hauled away to its original habitat Wednesday afternoon, the report said.

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The herd of originally 17 elephants left their home in the spring. Analysts have said the mysterious migration could be a sign of loss of habitat.

Chen Mingyong, an elephant researcher at Yunnan University, said males sometimes leave their pack to search for a mate. Local people have been giving the male elephant food that is bad for its health, Chen said.

In late June, the family of pachyderms were seen outside the city of Kunming. Villagers have said the animals have razed crops, walked into homes and even become drunk on fermented grain, National Geographic reported.

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The group was heading generally south and back to its habitat, while authorities deployed drones to track the animals and used food bait and barriers to coax them toward a route home.

Pan Wenjing, a Beijing-based researcher at Greenpeace, told National Geographic that the wild elephants are at risk of becoming food-dependent on humans.

Tranquilizing the entire pack and trucking them back to the reserve would be risky, however.

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"They are a closely knit family and are visibly on alert for potential dangers," Pan said. "To tranquilize even just one elephant will very likely agitate the entire herd."

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