China’s most famous wandering herd of elephants could end its epic at an early date. After 17 months of wandering through the south of the country, the most headline-grabbing group of pachyderms in recent history has been guided to cross the Yuanjiang River in Yunnan province.
Now, their steps seem to be heading towards the nature reserve from which they departed last year in Xishuangbanna province, bordering Laos and Burma. They distance in the last stretch of their journey is of about 200 kilometers.
The herd, composed of 14 animals of different ages and sizes, has already completed a journey of about 500 kilometers. It has captivated the country. There are many who follow their route live thanks to drones that monitor them day and night.
Among the highlights of their adventure is the birth of a calf in November in Pu’er, a region famous for its tea plantations, or the group nap they took in June in a forest on the outskirts of a village in the municipality of Xiyang – the images went viral around the world.
The herd has crossed leafy groves and muddy roads, crossed highways or wandered through towns of different sizes where they have caused more than one mishap, from devastating corn crops to breaking into a dealership to drink water or eating an entire shipment of pineapples. The accumulated damage caused by their wanderings is in the region of one million euros.
The vigilance of the authorities – who at specific moments deployed hundreds of people, trucks and tons of food – prevented fatalities. One of the most uncertain moments came at the beginning of the summer, when the group approached Kunming, capital of Yunnan, population eight million, although in the end they were able to divert their steps towards less hostile lands.
There is no consensus, however, on the reasons that led this herd to undertake an exceptional migration for the species. Among the main hypotheses, it has been suggested that the dominant specimen became disoriented and dragged the rest.
It has also been suggested that problems in their habitat, where the increase in deforestation and human pressure may have pushed them to look for more fertile land elsewhere. Whatever the case, the animals are now in a “suitable habitat” after crossing the river, and the authorities are committed to their safe return home soon.