The forestry department of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province received a call at 10:40 a.m. Monday, saying three elephants, two adults and a baby, were trapped in a reservoir in a nearby village.
Staff from the department speculated that the baby elephant might have fallen into the reservoir, while the two adult elephants were trapped after trying to rescue the baby.
“It could endanger their lives if they were trapped for too long, especially the baby elephant,” said a forestry worker.
Li Wen, the village chief, said the reservoir is five meters deep, four meters wide and seven meters long.
A dozen more wild elephants began to surround the reservoir, attempting to pull their companions out by the nose. After several failed attempts, they became agitated.
Li said there are about 70 wild Asian elephants in the area.
“We have elephant observers in every village who report to higher departments whenever an elephant is in danger,” said Li.
Villagers were organized immediately to observe the trapped elephants’ vital signs and keep an eye on the elephants that had gathered at the scene.
Meanwhile, rescuers worked out three potential plans to save the elephants. The first would use helicopters to lay a path of sandbags for the elephants to walk out of the reservoir, if the weather condition permits. A second would use helicopters to chase away the elephants gathered on the bank, allowing rescuers to dig out a path from the side of the reservoir using excavators. If the helicopters could not be used, rescuers would have to drive away the elephant onlookers on foot to make way for excavators.
However, heavy rain on Sunday hampered the efforts. Neither the helicopters nor the rescuers were able to reach the scene. An unmanned aerial vehicle was flown to observe the situation.
“We were worried that the baby elephant might choke on the water or die from exhaustion,” said Xiong Chaoyong, deputy manager of Asian elephant breeding and rescue center in Yunnan.
Rain continued to fall on Monday. Rescuers risked their lives to scare off more than 10 agitated elephants using firecrackers, while several others crept to the water’s edge and opened a water lock of the reservoir to prevent the trapped elephants from drowning.
A police officer said the safety of the elephants was guaranteed after the water level dropped a bit, buying some time to continue the rescue mission.
However, the rain began to pour on Monday night, forcing rescuers to leave the scene.
The baby elephant became increasingly frail as time passed.
The rain stopped on Tuesday morning. Rescuers prepared more fireworks to drive away the elephants gathered at the scene. Xiong went to the reservoir’s edge to throw bananas and other food to the trapped elephants.
Protected by the two adult elephants, the baby elephant finally walked out of the reservoir via the path.
The Asian elephant is a first-class national protected animal. China has about 300 Asian elephants, mostly in Yunnan.