A total of 43 wild Asian elephants were recently spotted approaching residential areas in Mohan town, Southwest China's Yunnan Province.
So far, locals have been giving the herd a wide berth and no incidents of physical harm to residents have been reported.
Reported by local villagers to the Kunming fire and rescue detachment on July 12, the Asian elephant herd was found trampling and eating crops at farms belonging to the town's Mohan-Boten Economic Cooperation Zone.
After days of monitoring by the local fire department, the Asian elephant herd has been seen approaching residential areas twice and now seems to be moving slowly toward farms belonging to the town's Molong village, which is roughly around eight kilometers away from the Mohan-Boten Economic Cooperation Zone.
A warning notice about the approaching elephant herd has been issued by the local fire and rescue detachment to nearby villagers. Xie Zhongyi, a wildlife expert, told the Global Times that these timely updates can "effectively prevent" potential "extreme harm" to people.
Wild Asian elephants do pose a risk to local residents. In Yunnan Province's Xishuangbanna, four attacks by wild elephants in May led to three deaths and one person injured.
Xie told the Global Times that wild Asian elephants often feel "insecure and threatened" if humans get too close to them or share the same natural resources with them. This is a major reason behind the animals' aggressive behavior.
"Constant monitoring is a good way to maintain the balance between local villagers and wild elephants since we cannot prohibit them from moving into our everyday zone and cannot harm them in defense," Xie said, adding that Yunnan has improved its methods for coping with the human-animal dilemma.
Six firemen with the Kunming fire department have formed a professional monitory team to continuously "spy" on the migration of the Asian elephant herd. A total of 60 unmanned aerial vehicles and more than 10 constantly updated "elephant journey" maps are being used to guide locals to safe places.
Home to wild Asian elephants, Yunnan is known for its rich biodiversity. In 2021, the news of an Asian elephant herd moving north from their home brought the animals into the public spotlight.
Li Jun, an expert specializing in ethical human-animal relationships, told the Global Times that the province's rich elephant resources have led it to coming up with more "humane measures" to deal with herds.
Since 2010, the Xishuangbanna local government has been investing 14.71 million yuan ($2.04 million) annually to provide an "Asian elephant insurance" service with an insurance company.
Villagers will be compensated for any damage caused by the elephants by the government through means of this commercial insurance program.