Herd of wild elephants approaching Kunming

The group of Asian elephants has trekked for nearly 500km northward and were within a few kilometers of the edges of Kunming, a city of some 8 million, on Wednesday.

A herd of 15 wild elephants was approaching the city of Kunming, the capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, on Wednesday, defying attempts to redirect them after a journey of several hundred kilometers from forests to the south.

The group of Asian elephants, which includes three calves, originally lived in the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to the Xinhua news agency, and has trekked for nearly 500km along highways and through fields of crops over the past months.

They were within a few kilometers of the edges of Kunming, a city of some 8 million, on Wednesday, state television CCTV said. It is unclear why the elephants are moving north and their destination so far is unknown.

Chen Mingyong, an Asian elephant expert cited by Xinhua, said the incident was the longest-distance migration of wild elephants recorded in China. Chen said it was possible their leader "lacks experience and led the whole group astray."

The Xinhua report said a decline in edible plants in forest habitats has put pressure on the animals, whose numbers have grown in Yunnan from 193 in the 1980s to around 300.

Conflicts between villagers and elephants can emerge as they leave protected areas to enter villages and eat crops. Some 6.8 million yuan (US$1.1 million) of damage has been caused by this elephant herd, according to Xinhua.

Local governments in Yunnan, which borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, have used roadblocks and tons of food to try to shift the elephants' course over recent weeks, while evacuating residential areas.

A task force of 360 people with 76 cars and nine drones was tracking the elephants.

Last week, the elephants wandered the streets of the town of Eshan for six hours.

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