Early summer saw unexpected visitors arrive in the villages and farming fields of southwest China’s Yunnan Province: a herd of 15 wild Asian elephants had decided to make an impromptu appearance. The entire herd has since been safely returned to their natural habitat, crossing the milestone barrier of the Yuan River on August 8, but their months-long migration has raised some pressing questions.
Little is known about why these protected animals decided to leave their home in the heavily forested Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve near the borders of Laos and Myanmar to embark on an inexplicable 500-kilometer trek into residential areas and agricultural zones.
What is certain is that these otherwise gentle giants left a trail of destruction in their wake, damaging property, raiding crops, breaking into shops and homes in search of food and water, forcing the evacuation of residents and blocking roadways.
Authorities responded quickly, deploying a special task-force of police and experts to monitor the elephants by drone, block their path with heavy trucks, lure away from stealing crops with targeted food dumps and otherwise guide them back to the safety of their designated home in the protected nature reserve.
Despite their rambunctious behavior, the group quickly attained celebrity status online, with millions of fascinated internet users tracking their movements and commenting on their mischievous antics.
The herd has since receded from the public limelight but the concerns raised by their brief foray into the human realm remain as serious as ever.
Across the world, trends like climate change, urbanization, rural development and human population growth have steadily eroded habitats for wildlife and brought human communities into increasingly close contact with animals.
Kenya is no exception and, here too, the rapid rise in agricultural enterprises, the fencing off of pasture land for grazing and the expansion of rural settlements is ramping up the friction between human populations and their elephant neighbors.
As these trends continue to gather pace globally, human-elephant encounters are bound to only become more frequent. To see what lessons could be learned from Kenya’s rich experience of mitigating conflict between people and wildlife, our news team visited the Mara Elephant Project in the country’s Narok County.
Check out the video above to see what we found.