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Videos of roving elephants remind me of a rampage I filmed

By Erik Nilsson | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-15 08:06
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Aerial photo taken on June 13, 2021 shows the herd of wild Asian elephants sleeping in Shijie township of Yimen county, Yuxi city, Southwest China's Yunnan province. [Photo by Yunnan Forest Fire Brigade/provided to]

The recent viral videos of wild elephants wandering in a downtown area in Yunnan province immediately reminded me of my own experience watching a herd-perhaps even the same one-destroy buildings in the province's jungle during Spring Festival in 2009.

In recent weeks, footage has emerged of 15 elephants that wandered 500 kilometers from the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve into an urban center in Eshan Yi autonomous prefecture and later a suburb of the provincial capital, Kunming.

The herd initially included two more pachyderms. But they ended up imbibing booze and wandering away from the group, authorities say.

I'll never forget hearing breaking glass and screams when my wife, brother, mom, dad and aunt approached the treehouse dwellings we'd booked for our holiday in 2009.

I didn't originally understand why we had to walk there from the park's entrance, rather than take the cable car through the canopy. The ticket seller said something about "elephants attacking". I was sure my Chinese level meant I misunderstood him. But I didn't.

We arrived on an elevated walkway where a crowd was watching the elephants ravage a restaurant set up for tourists.

They weren't angry. They were hungry.

They'd smashed a nearby photo booth and bashed a hole in the side of the eatery. We watched in disbelief as one elephant spun a refrigerator across the ground, opened it with its trunk and started chomping on pineapples inside.

Whenever the creatures stepped out for a minute, staffers taking refuge on the elevated walkway dashed in, crossing the bridge spanning a river between the treehouses and restaurant to retrieve valuables-the cash register, computers and the like.

They even salvaged some boiled corn and a cooler full of drinks, which they let those of us watching the spectacle enjoy for free.

One baby used its trunk to thwack tables and chairs into the river, one by one.

We sat and snapped photos and shot videos with our cameras (this was pre-smartphone era) for hours, until dusk inked out their plodding silhouettes.

Two photographs from that day still hang on my living room wall.

The creatures were gone the next morning. So, we went to get a closer look at, and photos of, the damage.

Then, we took the cable car back to the park's gate, where there were several attractions, including a museum and butterfly house.

But when we returned to the treehouses via the cable car and disembarked, a guard told us to stay put.

The elephants had also returned.

After a while, he shouted: "OK! Run!"

We started bolting toward the treehouses.

My mother had broken her leg just before the trip, and limped along full speed, head bobbing like a water bird, falling behind the group.

But that meant she was all the closer to the cable-car stop when gray ominously filled in the spaces between the green leaves ahead, and the guard shrieked, "Go back!"

We did. As fast as we could.

After a while, the coast seemed clear again, and we successfully returned to our arboreal dwellings.

Then, the elephants also returned, again.

Problem was, we had a flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, the next morning.

And we were worried we couldn't catch it if the wild creatures were still blocking our way out of the wilderness. Try explaining that to the airline!

Fortunately, they were nowhere to be seen when we awoke.

So, we packed up.

And, after chasing a monkey away from our luggage, we left the rainforest wilderness of Xishuangbanna for the concrete jungle of Chengdu.

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