A herd of 15 elephants have caused destruction in south-western China, including eating whole fields of corn and smashing up barns, after escaping from a nature reserve in April.

Over the past week, the animals have also drained a water tank and plagued villagers worried about their crops, state broadcaster CCTV said.

It was unclear why the wild Asian elephants, a protected species in China, strayed from the Xishuangbanna national nature reserve in Yunnan province.

But since April, the animals have embarked on a 500km journey, closely monitored by residents and authorities, with hundreds of people mobilised to ensure public safety.

On Tuesday, Yunnan authorities said the herd was 20km from the provincial capital of Kunming, home to millions of people.

Since mid-April, the elephants have wrecked around 56 hectares of crops, causing an estimated 6.8m yuan ($1.07m) in losses, CCTV said.

No casualties have been reported so far, with locals attempting to guide the animals with food and by blocking roads with trucks.

The wild elephant population in Yunnan is around 300, up from 193 in the 1980s, reported Xinhua.

But there have been more reports of such elephants wandering into villages and harming crops in recent years, with the plants they usually eat gradually replaced by non-edible varieties amid forest expansion, said local officials.





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