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4 elephants laying on ground.
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Top Photo: Most of the herd takes a break from its travels! Image courtesy of CCTV

A herd of 15 Asian elephants in China have wandered more than 300 miles from their home to the outskirts of a city, Kunming, that is home to more than eight million people. It is the longest recorded elephant migration in China’s history.

The pachyderms first left their home, a nature reserve in the Yunnan province, one year ago. The herd now consists of six adult females, three adult males, and six juveniles.

Scientists have spent the last year speculating about what caused the elephants to leave their home in the first place, but there is not an answer to that question.

“The truth is, no- one knows. It is almost certainly related to the need for resources—food, water, shelter—and this would make sense given the fact that, in most locations where Asian elephants live in the wild, there is an increase in human disturbances leading to habitat fragmentation, loss and resource reduction,” says Joshua Plotnik, assistant professor of elephant psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York, in an interview with the BBC.

The same team of experts who are uncertain about why the elephants left also cannot say where the trekking pachyderms are headed. The experts are concerned about the herd as they are unlikely to return home on their own, so they are exploring options to create a new reserve for the elephants or help them get back to their home.

Experts are also concerned about the elephants because their trek has brought the wandering pachyderms into close contact with humans, which is stressful and potentially dangerous for the animals. The elephants have been spotted raiding crops, meandering down streets, breaking into kitchens for food, playing around in the mud, and napping in a forest.

The herd’s adventure has been documented by drones, which are providing unforgettable pictures that have drawn international attention. Experts are hopeful that this will bring more awareness about these endangered, majestic giants.

Diagram showing water levels in 1998, July 2014 and 2012 for Lake Mead.Mega Drought Impacts Arizona’s Lake Mead

Last month, Lake Mead hit a new record low capacity, bringing the lake to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s.

In the last year, the lake’s level has dropped nearly 20 feet, and the reservoir has fallen nearly 143 feet since the year 2000. The reservoir currently sits at 36 percent of its full capacity.

Lake Mead holds water for cities, farms, and tribal lands for our sunny state as well as Nevada, California and Mexico.

The lake is now below 1,071.6 feet, the last low record, set in 2016. After that record, the reservoir was able to rebound. Now, the level of Lake Mead is projected to continue dropping over the next year and into 2023.

Experts anticipate that the federal government will declare a shortage in August, which will trigger major cuts in the water allotments for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico next year. Larger water reductions could be forced upon the areas the reservoir serves if the levels continue to drop, and conservation efforts will be triggered. These efforts will include recycling wastewater, capturing stormwater, cleaning up polluted groundwater, and promoting efficiency measures.

Lake Mead’s shortage has been linked to more than two decades of drought conditions and increasing temperatures attributable to climate change. These conditions have reduced the amount of water flowing into the lake, while the demand for water in the desert remains.

But it’s not just Lake Mead that is struggling. Lake Powell, which also serves the water demands of the Southwest, is currently sitting at 34 percent capacity as well. The heat waves that are a part of the cycle we’re in are only expected to continue.

“Heatwaves are getting worse in the West because the soil is so dry,” says Park Williams, a University of California, Los Angeles, climate and fire scientist. Williams told USA Today that he has calculated the soil in the western part of the country to be the driest it’s been since 1895.

Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
July 2021