After a 17-month journey that made international headlines, it seems that China’s famous herd of elephants has finally decided to return home. According to a report by the AP news agency, the herd, eight 14 Asian elephants of various sizes and ages, crossed the Yuan River in southwestern China, creating a path that leads to the nature reserve in the Xishuangbanna Autonomous Province.

As of yesterday (Sunday), the herd is in the Yuanjiang area, about 200 kilometers from the reserve. A few months ago one male who separated from the herd was put to sleep and returned to the reserve.

The male who separated from the herd and was returned to the reserve / Photo: Associated Press, Yunnan Provincial Command Center for the Safety and Monitoring of North Migrating Asian Elephants

The return of the elephants is the final chord to a journey that lasted more than 500 kilometers, which many – locals and foreigners – followed. Some of the highlights of the trip include the birth of a new puppy in November, causing damage worth more than 6.8 million yuan ($ 1.07 million) according to estimates on Chinese TV channel CGTN, and one nap that went viral.

The elephants are asleep / Photo: Reuters, China Daily

The elephants are asleep / Photo: Reuters, China Daily

About two months ago, a skimmer photo showed the herd sleeping in a forest near a village in the Xiang area. When it started moving again, 400 people were deployed next to them with 374 vehicles, 14 skimmers and more than two tons of food.

The elephants were supervised and removed from populated areas by a team of eight people, who followed them on the ground and by skimmer for 24 hours a day.

Local wildlife experts were unable to identify the reason why the elephants decided to migrate. Professor Zhang Li, a mammal conservation expert at Normal University in Beijing, told the government-run Global Times in June that “the traditional buffer zones between humans and elephants are disappearing, and the chances of encountering elephants and humans are rising.”

The behavior of the “tourists” was not welcomed by everyone. Some local farmers complained that the elephants ate whole fields of corn and pineapple trucks. A car dealer said six elephants drank two tons of water at his store.

Elephants drink water from a pool in Yunnan Province, about two months ago / Photo: Reuters, China Daily

Elephants drink water from a pool in Yunnan Province, about two months ago / Photo: Reuters, China Daily

The news reported extensively on events that could threaten the animals. In July, for example, it was reported that Yunnan Province authorities had asked residents to refrain from growing poisonous mushrooms during the wet season. The topic “Will elephants eat poisonous mushrooms” became popular on the social network Vivo, and ended up being viewed more than 120 million times.

The Chinese Communist Party used elephants for propaganda when they starred in an editorial published in the government-owned Global Times. “The Chinese concern for migratory elephants presents a charming national image that the West cannot distort,” it read.

Asian elephants are among the most protected animals in China. Although their habitats are shrinking, their population has grown to about 300 individuals.

By Editor

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