China’s herd of wandering elephants finally may be heading home

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In this photo released by the Yunnan Provincial Command Center for the Safety and Monitoring of North Migrating Asian Elephants, a herd of wandering elephants cross a river using a highway near Yuxi city, Yuanjiang county in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021. The 14 elephants of various sizes and ages were guided across the Yuanjiang river in Yunnan province on Sunday night and a path is being opened for them to return to the nature reserve in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. (Yunnan Provincial Command Center for the Safety and Monitoring of North Migrating Asian Elephants via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — An elephant herd that’s fascinated locals and people around the world by making a yearlong journey into urbanized southwest China, raiding farms, and even a retirement home for food, look like they’re finally heading home.

FILE – In this aerial photo file photo taken on May 28, 2021, and released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a herd of wild Asian elephants stands in E’shan county in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. A herd of 15 wild elephants that walked 500 kilometers (300 miles) from a nature reserve in China’s mountain southwest were approaching the major city of Kunming on Wednesday, June 2, as authorities rushed to try to keep them out of populated areas. (Hu Chao/Xinhua via AP, File)

Local authorities have taken several measures to create a clear and safe path for the herd, deploying trucks, workers, and drones to monitor the elephants, evacuating, and using food to steer them away from populated areas. Despite their entrance into villages and a close approach to the Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming, no animals or humans have been injured.

The 14 Asian elephants of various sizes and ages 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 where they lived in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture.

FILE – In this aerial file photo taken May 28, 2021, and released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a herd of wild Asian elephants walks in E’shan county in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. A herd of 15 wild elephants that walked 500 kilometers (300 miles) from a nature reserve in China’s mountain southwest were approaching the major city of Kunming on Wednesday, June 2, as authorities rushed to try to keep them out of populated areas. (Hu Chao/Xinhua via AP, File)

The elephants left the reserve more than a year ago for unknown reasons and roamed more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) north. After reaching the outskirts of Kunming, a center for business and tourism, they turned south again, but still are far from the reserve.

One male that separated from the herd was subsequently tranquilized and returned to the reserve.

Asian elephants are among the most highly protected animals in China and their population has grown to around 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 kilometers (125 miles) from the reserve.

FILE – In this aerial file photo taken on May 28, 2021, and released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a herd of wild Asian elephants walks in E’shan county in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. A herd of 15 wild elephants that walked 500 kilometers (300 miles) from a nature reserve in China’s mountain southwest were approaching the major city of Kunming on Wednesday, June 2, as authorities rushed to try to keep them out of populated areas. (Hu Chao/Xinhua via AP, File)

However, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration said the animals were in a “suitable habitat” after crossing the river.

In this photo released by the Yunnan Provincial Command Center for the Safety and Monitoring of North Migrating Asian Elephants, a herd of wandering elephants cross a river using a highway near Yuxi city, Yuanjiang county in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021. The 14 elephants of various sizes and ages were guided across the Yuanjiang river in Yunnan province on Sunday night and a path is being opened for them to return to the nature reserve in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. (Yunnan Provincial Command Center for the Safety and Monitoring of North Migrating Asian Elephants via AP)

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 in their natural habitat soon.

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