The elephant herd, which traveled 482 kilometers from a reserve in Xishuangbanna Dai prefecture, reached the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. The wild animals wreaked havoc, walking along city roads and sticking their trunks through the windows of residential buildings, despite efforts by authorities to divert them from densely populated areas.
Authorities announced that it was “forbidden to approach or view the elephants” after the herd reached Jinnin, one of Kunming’s seven neighborhoods, late Wednesday night.
Video footage taken from the ground and from the air by dozens of drones showed the elephants wreaking havoc as they passed through residential streets, entering the streets and eating crops.
Authorities in the semi-rural Jining district issued a notice urging residents not to leave corn or other produce in their yards that could attract elephants, and warned people to stay indoors and avoid contact with them.
A group of 15 elephants passed through towns and small communities along their route, blocking streets, looting barns and causing about $1 million in damage. No injuries were reported.
On Tuesday, the herd showed up at a nursing home and shoved its trunks into some rooms, forcing one elderly man to hide under a bed.
Roads were blocked by trucks, and 18 tons of pineapples and corn were scattered in an attempt to steer the elephants away from the densely populated Jinnin district.
More than 360 people were deployed to try to divert the herd, including police in 76 patrol cars and wildlife conservationists who monitored their progress with nine drones.
Elephants are a protected species in China, which means the herd will not be destroyed, and wildlife officials are also eager to avoid tranquilizing the animals.
Animal experts said it is not yet clear what caused the elephant migration, which is the longest ever recorded in China.
There were originally 16 animals in the herd, but the government said two returned home and one cub was born during the walk. The herd now consists of six adult females and three males, three juveniles and three elephants.
The wild herd had been living in the Xishuangbanna Dai Reserve, but left its territory more than a month ago and began its destructive march.
Last week, the elephants wandered into the streets of Eshan City, near Yuxi, and stayed there for six hours, with residents warned not to leave their homes.
During that time, the elephants roamed the streets, broke into barns, ate from garbage cans and chewed their way through nearby farmland.
When and how the elephants will be returned to the sanctuary remains to be seen.
Elephants are the largest land animals in Asia, weighing up to five tons.