A herd of elephants that attracted public attention by making a year-long journey into south-west China, raiding farms and even a retirement home for food, appears to be heading home.
Local authorities sent out lorries, workers and drones to monitor the elephants, cleared roads to allow them to pass safely and used food to steer them away from populated areas. Despite their march into villages and approach of the Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming, no other animals or humans were injured.
The 14 Asian elephants of various size and age were guided across the Yuanjiang river in Yunnan on Sunday night and a path is being opened for them to return to the nature reserve they left in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture.
The elephants left the reserve more than a year ago for unknown reasons and roamed more than 500 kilometres north. After reaching the outskirts of Kunming, a centre for business and tourism, they turned south again but still are far from their former home.
One male that separated from the herd was tranquilised and returned to the reserve.
Asian elephants are among the most highly protected animals in China and their population has grown to about 300, even while their habitat has shrunk because of expanded farming and urban growth.
As of Sunday night, the herd was still in Yuanjiang County, approximately 200 kilometres from the reserve.
The National Forestry and Grassland Administration said the animals were in a “suitable habitat” after crossing the river.
A notice issued by the provincial government said the herd’s progress was significant and it would continue to work on getting the elephants back into their natural habitat as soon as possible.