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Humans beware! The elephants are disgruntled

Are the roaming elephants a bad omen? On Tuesday, the herd that has been wandering Yunnan province changed direction, leaving scientists struggling to understand the reason for their trek. No one paid the elephants much attention until they turned up on the city streets. Then, the drones were dispatched, the news channels showed up and people began to ask themselves what it could mean. The herd has been on the move for more than 15 months. They have trekked over 500km for no obvious reason. Along the way, they have stopped to give birth and left three male elephants behind. In China yesterday, social media was still clamouring for the latest developments. The herd had changed direction. It had been thought the 15-odd elephants were heading towards their home in Xishuangbanna national park. But after this recent diversion, nobody is sure. Their roaming has captured the imagination of millions, who have watched them sleep, play and eat - sometimes at the expense of local people. These Asian elephants have munched through an entire cornfield, smashed barns and, in one memorable incident, barged into a courtyard, turned on the tap and formed an orderly queue for a drink. Estimates put the price of their damage at about 750,000. Because of their great power, elephants have long been reveredHighly respected. . The Hindu god Ganesha has the head of an elephant, and the god Indra rode an elephant called Airavata into battle. They have also been used as weapons of war by mortals. When the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, defeated the Roman armies in Italy, he brought elephants with him to fight, marching them across the Alps. But they are not especially warlike creatures. They show a range of playful behaviours, intense personal bonds and even have ritualsReligious or solemn activities comprising activities in a certain order. for mourning the dead. One elephant's famous refusal to fight during a siege of Mecca led 570 AD to be named Year of the Elephant in the Arab world. This was also the year of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. The actions of the elephant are thought to be an omen of his arrival. Asked if these roaming elephants might also be a sign of future events, Professor Phyllis Lee, an expert in elephant behaviour, pointed out that they are "natural explorers". "Still", she said, "I think it's a bad omen for human futures. It represents the destruction of viableCapable of working successfully. ecosystems." China's recent conservation efforts have resulted in an increase in their elephant population, but the space in which the animals can find the 200kg of food they need each day has shrunk to 250,000 hectares - only about 1.5 times the size of London. Thinking about how humans have treated these creatures they claim to revere, it would not be unreasonable to see the elephants rampaging through fields and think they are coming to seek revenge. Before the BuddhaThe founder of Buddhism. Born Gauthama Siddhartha in Nepal in around 563BC, he left his princely family to seek wisdom. was born, his mother dreamt of a white elephant. By contrast, last Saturday in Thailand, Ratchadawan Puengprasoppo was literally shaken from her dreams by an elephant rummaging through the drawers of her kitchen. Are the roaming elephants a bad omen? Elephant in the Room No, say some. They are wandering away from their habitat for predictable reasons. They are looking for food. Their former home was becoming uninhabitable. This is itself a kind of warning, perhaps, but one from ourselves. We should recognise that more needs to be done to preserve elephant habitats - but to call it a bad omen is to evade responsibility. It is the inevitable consequence of environmental destruction. Yes it is, say others. We might understand why these elephants left their home, but not why they have been wandering in the direction they have. Denying that elephants' behaviour could hold cosmic meaning is part of the reason we have almost wiped them out. It is arrogant to assume that nature would not try to tell us something. We should read their roaming as a sign of bad things to come. KeywordsRevered - Highly respected.

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