A herd of elephants have been lumbering across China for more than a year now. They have strayed almost 500km away from their original habitat.
It’s thought that they started their journey last spring from Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in the southwest of the country, near the border with Myanmar and Laos.
They began moving north and in the last few months, the elephants have popped up in a number of villages, towns and cities.
They’ve been seen smashing down doors, raiding shops, “stealing” food, playing around in the mud, taking a bath in a canal and napping in the middle of a forest.
They’ve also been spotted hoovering up crops in their wake and breaking into people’s houses, on one occasion, lining up in a courtyard to drink water, successfully turning on a tap with their trunks.
It is thought they have started to move south again, and were last spotted in Shijie, near the city of Yuxi.
It’s unclear whether they are headed back, or why they even embarked on this journey in the first place – the farthest known movement by elephants in the country.
Scientists are unanimous that this is not migration because it does not follow a fixed route.
“The truth is, no-one knows. It is almost certainly related to the need for resources – food, water, shelter – and this would make sense given the fact that, in most locations where Asian elephants live in the wild, there is an increase in human disturbances leading to habitat fragmentation, loss and resource reduction,” Joshua Plotnik, assistant professor of elephant psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York said.
In recent months, officials have been laying food bait and blocking roads with trucks to redirect the elephants to safety.
Chinese media have been checking in on the group of elephants daily. And the herd has become a social media hit with internet users.
All the attention has increased awareness and sensitivity to the plight of the endangered elephants in the country.