Mammoth trek

A lone elephant which broke away from a herd marching through southern China has been captured and returned to a nature reserve, officials said, in the latest twist for a journey that has caused chaos but captivated Chinese social media.

It was part of a herd of Asian elephants that spent months travelling over 500km from the nature reserve in one of the longest animal migrations of its kind in China.

Since setting off in spring last year, they have pilfered from shops and trampled crops worth over US$1 million (S$1.35 milllion), and thousands of residents have been evacuated from their path.

The solo 10-year-old strayed from the group a month ago.

On Wednesday, the animal weighing over 1.8 tonnes was tranquilised and taken to Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, the wildlife department in Yunnan province said.

It did not specify how it was transported some 530km back to the reserve.

After being released in the reserve, state broadcaster CCTV showed it foraging for food among lush green foliage before taking a dip in a river.

Male elephants usually leave their mother’s herd to live alone or in small groups with other males as they reach sexual maturity.

Scientists are still baffled by what prompted the elephants to leave their home at Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, on the border with Laos.

But their mammoth trek has helped highlight habitat loss and conservation challenges in one of the few places in the world where wild elephant numbers are on the rise.

China’s wild elephant numbers have doubled to more than 300 in the past three decades – but their habitats have shrunk by nearly two-thirds over the same period.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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