How a herd of wandering elephants is stunning China

Fifteen Asian elephants have become social media stars since leaving their reserve—but why are they wandering?
asian elephant Asian elephants are an endangered species, with around 30,000 left in the wild. (ID 186185841 © Yifei Yang |

Is there any animal as impressive as an elephant. How about a whole herd of elephants?

Strong, tall, intelligent, and unique, they are the largest land animals on the planet. And even the slightly smaller Asian species is something to behold.

That's why a breakout herd of Asian elephants in Yunnan Province has captured the hearts of so many in China. Since leaving their reserve in southern China a year ago, their story has slowly grown. They are followed by drones mapping their moves, protected by police, and watched by millions on livestream channels.

Why is this happening?

But another reason why this group is so captivating? Because their journey is so unusual and full of questions. Mainly, Why are they traveling so far?

They have gone around 500 kilometres (310 miles) so far—and with no apparent destination in sight. Are they lost? Whatever the reason, their journey has so far destroyed around $1 million worth of property, much of it to farms in their path. And even though something like this has never happened, experts do have a theory about what caused the animals to leave their home.

Human encroachment—when the living spaces of people expand to take over wild habitats—is slowly squeezing the natural wild areas of animals like elephants. So even though these elephants lived on a protected reserve, there may have been a sense that it was time to move on. And that search for a new home could take a while.

While we wonder whether these elephants will ever stop wandering, you can watch this PBS News Hour report on their remarkable year so far.

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