Riddles about wandering herd of elephants: what drives the animals?

A herd of elephants has been wandering through China for weeks and has already covered hundreds of kilometers.
But what drives the elephants? Is your leader confused, or is it a magnetic storm to blame for your migration?
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China and half the world have been puzzling over a wild herd of elephants that has left the subtropical forests of their nature reserve in Xishuangbanna on the southwest border with Laos and Myanmar for weeks. Instead, the animals have embarked on an odyssey north and have already covered more than 500 kilometers.

On their way, they devastated fields, plundered crops and moved across streets and villages. Several hundred incidents have been counted so far. The damage is estimated at the equivalent of more than one million euros.

But what drives the elephants? Is the leader inexperienced or confused? Xie Can of China’s Academy of Sciences, an expert on geomagnetic fields, believes something happened to the animals’ innate urge to migrate. “It could be that a magnetic storm triggered by unusual solar activity triggered the instinct,” he is quoted as saying.

As is so often the case, it is more the human being to blame. The nature reserve in Xishuangbanna has shrunk by 40 percent, reports Professor Zhang Li from the Pedagogical University in Beijing. Agriculture and settlements are displacing the forest. Better protection of elephants – also from poachers – has increased their number in China from 180 in the 1980s to 300 today.

The conflict between species protection and development of the rural economy
“On the one hand we have a growing population, on the other hand the suitable habitat is decreasing”, the ecology professor describes the dilemma in a TV interview. “This is a classic conflict between species protection and the development of the rural economy.” In his view, it is “the key factor why elephants leave their homes”. So it should not be easy to get the elephants to return.

The large animals that can become aggressive when they feel threatened are described as stressed anyway because of the hype. Hundreds of onlookers gather when their arrival is expected. Missiles with cameras circle over their heads.

A crisis team with 300 helpers has been following every step for weeks. First, information on exactly where the animals are is given to village committees in real-time. Roads are then blocked with trucks or garbage trucks to keep them away.

The elephants have long since learned that it is easier to find rich food in agriculture than in the forests of their reserve, where they usually only eat small plants, as experts describe.

Villagers, therefore, lure them away from their fields and settlements with tons of food such as sugar cane, bananas, corn and other grains. As a result, the animals, which can eat 200 to 300 kilograms a day, find food again and again quite easily on their migration – and thus move further away from their natural way of life.

Stars in social networks
The “insanely sweet” and “cute” elephants are now stars in social networks. Drones film the herd from the air as they cuddle up with their young calves, lie lined up between trees on the ground and sleep peacefully.

China’s media keep billions of people informed every day, sending breaking news on mobile phones: “Wild elephant herd stops on the way north, while lonely male remains,” told the renowned business magazine “Caixin” with a push message on Monday.

They have been on their way for more than a year. Most recently, they even threatened to invade the seven million metropolia of Kunming. So it would fit in with the 15th World Species Conservation Conference (Cop15), which is supposed to meet in the capital of Yunnan Province – albeit not until October.

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