One member of a group of elephants that left a nature reserve and wandered close to cities in China’s southwest has been tranquilized and returned to the reserve after leaving the herd.
The elephants attracted nationwide attention after they left the reserve in Yunnan province last year and walked more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) north. They reached the outskirts of Kunming, a major city, before turning south again, but still are far from the reserve.
A lone male elephant that left the herd more than a month ago was captured Wednesday near the city of Yuxi and sent back to the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, about 280 kilometers (175 miles) away, according to the government.
The 10-year-old, 1.8-ton elephant had stayed near populated areas since Monday, prompting the decision to send it back to the reserve to reduce the risk to the public.
The elephant was tranquilized with a blow dart, put in a cage and taken home by truck, the government newspaper China Daily reported. It appeared healthy and had no injuries, the Yunnan government said in a social media post.
“As an Asian elephant that’s only 10 years old, it will encounter unpredictable difficulties for survival,” said Chen Mingyong, an elephant expert at Yunnan University, in a government statement.
The herd was 16 elephants when it left the reserve. Two returned on their own and a baby was born during the walk.
Authorities say the remaining group of six female and three male adults, two juveniles and three calves appear to be healthy.
More than 200 people with 20 drones and dozens of vehicles are tracking the elephants.
Authorities have closed roads to allow them to cross and told residents to stay indoors if they walk through villages. Tons of food has been used to lure them away from populated areas.
State TV carries updates on the elephants several times a day and they are among popular topics on social media.
The topic “#Lone elephant was captured and returned home#” on the Sina Weibo microblog service was viewed more than 15.8 million times on Wednesday and Thursday. A compilation of video clips posted online by the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily was reposted 1,200 times.
The elephants have damaged crops but no injuries have been reported.
As of June 28, residents reported losses of 6 million yuan ($950,000), according to the Yunnan Office of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.