A herd of wild Asian elephants makes its way in Yuxi’s Eshan Yi autonomous county, Yunnan province, on May 28, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

A video showing 15 wild Asian elephants roaming the streets of a county in Yunnan province has gone viral.

The elephants have been on the move for several months now, covering 400 kilometers since leaving their habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve sometime last year. In fact, their movement is being livestreamed, making them a talking point everywhere.

However, the reality is not as amusing as it seems. The wild elephants have left behind a trail of destruction. Disaster first struck when they began searching for food in Yuxi city between April and May 24. During its 40-day stay there, the herd was responsible for 412 accidents and destroyed crops on 561,333 square meters of agricultural land, causing a loss of 6.8 million yuan ($1.06 million).

Since 2017, wild elephants have caused 23 deaths in Xishuangbanna. In Nanjing, East China’s Jiangsu province, a wild boar rushed into a milk tea shop; in Jixi, Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, and a wild tiger entered a village and injured a resident.

Behind these rising number of man-animal conflicts is the increasing human encroachment into animal habitats. In Xishuangbanna, for example, the natural reserve originally spread across 2,400 square kilometers, but once tea and rubber plantations came up, the reserve was divided into five sub-zones with no natural corridors for the elephants.

Perhaps the elephant herd lost its way while moving from one sub-zone to another. The wild boar and tiger must have strayed into the residential areas looking for food in what was once their wilderness.

The provincial government in Yunnan has compensated the residents concerned for the losses caused by the elephants, but the animals too need protection.

Two elephants who had strayed along with the 15 others from the reserve got separated from the herd after feeding on grains stored in a local distillery.

To help guide such animals back to the safety of their environment, an emergency helpline needs to be set up.