Herding elephants with drones and bananas

A herd of 14 migrating elephants in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, which left the Xisuangbanna Nature Reserve in the south of the province last March, has returned home.

All members of the herd were in good condition and posed no danger to people when they passed near the town of Yuexi on Saturday, according to an article on the Chinese newspaper Global Times’ website. They crossed the Yuanjiang River on Sunday evening with “artificial guidance”, herd experts said, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua, adding that without help the elephants would not have been able to cross the river due to the rising water level during the rainy season.

A 10-year-old bull elephant was returned to its original habitat in early July after it left the herd and wandered on alone after travelling 500 kilometres. Two other bulls returned to the reserve even earlier. Scientists have been monitoring the migrating elephants’ movements with drones, blocking roads where necessary to ensure their safe passage and diverting them from more densely populated areas with food.

China is one of the few places in the world where the wild elephant population is increasing thanks to successful conservation efforts. In Yunnan Province, the only natural habitat for Asian elephants in China, the population of elephants has grown from 170 in the 1970s to 300 today. However, urbanisation and deforestation have reduced their habitat area, so it is possible that the migrating herd is looking for new homes where they can more easily find food. These huge mammals need 150-200 kilograms of food per day.

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