Maybe they’re looking for better food. Maybe they’ve gotten lost. Maybe they’re just adventurous and having a good time.
No one is quite sure. But for some reason, a herd of 15 Asian elephants has been lumbering its way across China for more than a year, traveling more than 300 miles through villages, forest patches — and, as of 9:55 p.m. on Wednesday, the edges of the city of Kunming, population 8.5 million.
Since setting out in spring last year from Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, on China’s far southwestern border with Laos, the elephants have trotted down the middle of a narrow county street, past a shuttered car dealership and gawking residents. They have gotten into stores of grains left over from fermentation, leading to reports of at least one drunken elephant. They have devoured truckloads of corn and pineapples left out by government officials in an effort to divert them to less populated areas — and then continued on their way.
It’s the farthest-known movement of elephants in China, according to experts. Where they’ll go next, no one knows. When they’ll stop? Also unclear.
Everyone is talking about this piece in The New York Times. I kept thinking about the book The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China. As China urbanizes and shifts away from agriculture I actually wonder if there is going to be a ‘re-wilding of large areas due to reforestation.