A long and curious journey comes to an end
Inexplicable behaviour
Discreetly guided
They got lost in China
Asian elephants tend to move... but not that much
The longest trip ever recorded
Passing through inhabited areas
Do not interact
Few elephants in China
More than 400 people make sure the herd is alright
Television show
A birth along the way
Consequence of the climate crisis?
Adventurous animals
Erratic trajectory
Destruction in its wake
What do elephants dream about?
An aimless leader
The last stretch
They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(1/19)
A long and curious journey comes to an end

The herd of elephants that has been roaming around China for more than a year, is finally returning to the reserve where it will be able to survive. All this time, the journey has been broadcast on Chinese television and watched as if it were a reality show.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(2/19)
Inexplicable behaviour

It was a journey of more than 500 km (311 miles) that scientists could not explain. No one understood why the elephants travelled this far.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(3/19)
Discreetly guided

Gently and without the use of any force, the country's authorities have managed to guide the elephants towards the reserve. They even got them to cross the Yuanjiang River in order to get home.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(4/19)
They got lost in China

As the herd was roaming China, over a year now, Chinese media turned this mysterious phenomenon of nature into an event that people can follow day and night. Aerial cameras have offered real-time images of the elephants' inexplicable adventure.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(5/19)
Asian elephants tend to move... but not that much

As researchers like biologist Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz say, Asian elephants tend to move around a lot in search of food. They can make great tours. However, the high number of miles they are walking now is something uncommon.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(6/19)
The longest trip ever recorded

This is the longest trip by a herd of elephants that science has ever observed. It started in the Xishuangbanna nature reserve, on the border with Laos and Burma, and continues after more than 311 miles (500 kilometers).

(Image: Liam Read / Unsplash)

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(7/19)
Passing through inhabited areas

The problem is that these 15 elephants are crossing areas inhabited by human beings (in the image, they are advancing through a cultivated area) and the Chinese authorities have had to set up a plan for them, block roads and, above all, ask the population to not disturb them and offer them food.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(8/19)
Do not interact

Interfering with the wild behaviour of these elephants can be dangerous for humans. It's also bad for the animals, as they get confused when their habits are affected by outsiders.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(9/19)
Few elephants in China

The Asian elephant, like many other beautiful animals on the planet, is in danger of extinction and is still (like the one in the image) exhibited in zoos. In southern China, in the area where this group comes from, there are about 150 remaining individuals of this species.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(10/19)
More than 400 people make sure the herd is alright

Drones are monitoring the march of the elephants. Moreover, there are 400 people near them - without the animals noticing - to arrange for a quiet route with sufficient food and space.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(11/19)
Television show

The group's movement through the Chinese territory is followed by cameras as if it were a reality show. CCTV, the Chinese television network, broadcasts the elephant journey continuously.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(12/19)
A birth along the way

There has even been a birth during this long elephant tour. The herd stopped in November 2020 for a few days so a female could give birth. Elephants are animals with a huge group conscience. They take care of and support each other to the extreme. This particular herd took a period of rest until the mother and calf were ready to start walking again.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(13/19)
Consequence of the climate crisis?

It's possible that these elephants had to leave their natural habitat as a consequence of the climate crisis. Changes in temperature - which the entire planet experiences - can causes changes in the soil, deforestation and, finally, a lack of food. Some experts believe that that is the reason for the elephants' aimless trip.

(Image: V Srinivasan / Unsplash)

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(14/19)
Adventurous animals

Others make a more literal interpretation of the tour, referring to the adventurous spirit of elephants. Perhaps they just wanted to see the world?
While it's true that elephants are very intelligent and sensitive, which could explain a certain curiosity on their part, this continues to be a very long journey for a group of elephants to make.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(15/19)
Erratic trajectory

Researchers are surprised by the erratic trajectory of this group of elephants. They move north but make curves and mark an unexplained itinerary. They venture into populated areas and enter buildings.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(16/19)
Destruction in its wake

The elephants leave behind more than curious images: destructions and losses for farmers in the areas they have visited. The animals have eaten crops and knocked down barns and other farm buildings. They even make inroads into towns, drinking water from the taps. According to certain estimates, they have already caused damages of more than one million dollars.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(17/19)
What do elephants dream about?

The constant attention by CCTV drones has also offered moments as sublime and rare as the recording of the group of elephants lying down and sleeping.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(18/19)
An aimless leader

Some scientists believe that behind this erratic journey is a leading elephant who is probably too young, impulsive, and inexperienced to lead the pack.

They're heading home: 15 elephants and their mysterious, televised journey across China
(19/19)
The last stretch

For now, it seems that the elephants are getting close to their home base again - with some human help. The Chinese public will surely follow this story until its very end.

Next: Why did scientists make a creature that's half man, half ape?

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