The family that stomps together, stays together.
A wild herd of Asian elephants is capturing international attention with an epic cross-country journey through southwestern China, where they have crossed some 500 kilometres of terrain for reasons unknown.
The herd has travelled from the outskirts of China’s Yunnan province to the area around its capital city of Kunming, in a trek that has been widely captured and tracked on Chinese social media over the last year.
The elephants originally set out on their journey in March 2020 with 16 members of the herd, although two wandered off and another one has since been born. That leaves the group tally at 15: six adult females, three adult males, three juveniles and three calves.
Officials were watching on Tuesday to see if that number might fall to 14, after one adult split off from the group and wandered away.
It’s unclear what prompted the elephants to hit the road on their epic journey, which has become the longest elephant migration ever seen in China. Officials also have no idea when they will stop moving.
Surveillance footage has spotted them marching through urban streets, and several drones are tracking them at all times to make sure they don’t pose a risk to humans.
Footage of the elephants’ antics has circulated widely online, where they have accrued a large following.
One photo of the elephants sleeping together in the grass has captured more than 200 million views on Chinese social media, the Associated Press reports.
Many other photos and videos have generated strong interest both within China and outside its borders.
No animals or people have been injured to date, although the elephants are said to have caused more than $1 million in crop damage.
Police have blocked off several routes in an effort to guide the elephants away from various towns and the bustling city of Kunming, with its population of 8.5 million. Officials have also laid out plenty of food to lure the animals along safer paths.
Some 630 people and 103 large vehicles have been deployed to guide the elephants away from citizens, the state-run China Daily reports.
Officials have not announced a long-term plan for dealing with the elephants.
Most of China’s Asian elephants live in the province of Yunnan, where they are protected by state law.
Officials say the province’s wild elephant population has grown from 193 in the 1980s to roughly 300 individuals today.
— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press
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