For the past 17 months, a wandering herd of elephants in China has embarked on an adventure of mammoth proportions.
Now, after straying hundreds of kilometres from their nature reserve, the animals are on the final leg of their journey home, Chinese officials announced last week.
From breaking into villagers’ homes to giving birth while on the road, it’s been an epic journey that could have been straight out of The Lord of the Rings.
This is the story of how the fellowship of elephants journeyed there and back again.
Leaving the shire
Tucked in the bottom end of the southern Yunnan province, the sprawling Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve lies right by the border of Myanmar and Laos.
A lush tropical forest that stretches for about 241,000 hectares – about one and a half times the size of London – it is home to most of Yunnan’s endangered Asian elephants.
Some time in March 2020, a herd of about 14 elephants decided to leave this jungle paradise, heading north.
Nobody batted an eyelid at first. Wild elephants are known to roam freely and regularly in the region, such that one city, Pu’er, even runs “elephant canteens” to feed their large visitors.
Most don’t stray very far, and usually head home after a while. But months after the herd left, officials started to realise that this was no ordinary trip.
This realisation literally hit home earlier this year when reports emerged of the elephants crashing into people’s houses, munching on their crops, and guzzling their water.
CCTV footage of the elephants wandering around the streets of various cities also went viral.