An elephant herd that has fascinated people around the world appears to be heading back home after a year-long journey into urbanised south-west China which saw them raid farms and even a retirement home for food.
Local authorities have deployed trucks, workers and drones to monitor the elephants, evacuated roads for them to pass safely and used 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 during the elephants’ journey.
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.
The elephants left the reserve more than a year ago for unknown reasons and have roamed more than 300 miles north.
After reaching the outskirts of Kunming, a centre for business and tourism, they turned south again, but are still far from the reserve.
One male that became separated from the herd was subsequently tranquillised 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 125 miles from the reserve.
However, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration said the animals are in a “suitable habitat” after crossing the river.
The provincial government said the herd’s progress was significant and officials would continue to work on getting the elephants back in their natural habitat soon.