Herd of Elephants Seen Making Cross-Country Journey

A herd of elephants captured hearts all across the internet when a video showing the animals cuddling for a nap in the Yunnan Forest in China went viral. According to multiple reports, the herd traveled 300 miles from their home on a nature reserve to the city of Kunming, where they arrived safely on June 2.

Chinese authorities deployed drones and mobilized hundreds of people throughout the country to help monitor the herd's movements and prevent them from causing trouble, says NPR. The media organization also reported fruit and vegetables were used as bait to keep the elephants from traveling through populated areas—however, the bribing didn't work. The elephants traipsed through various towns and villages, causing a large amount of wreckage along their long journey. Xinhua News Agency, China's state-run media agency, reported an estimated $1.1 million worth of damage throughout the state was caused by the herd.

Though thousands of people across the world have invested in the herd's movements, experts don't know what caused the migration. Chen Mingyong, a professor at Yunnan University's Asian Elephant Research Center, told Xinhua News Agency it is not unusual to see elephants wander from home. "Migration of Asian elephants is common, but it usually happens between several habitats in a certain area," he said. "It is very rare for them to travel such a distance to the north." He continued to say that the end destination is not known and the lead elephant could be inexperienced, and has therefore led the group "astray."

But a zoologist named Tammie Matson told NBC that when a group of elephants wanders for long periods of time, it's because they are looking for a habitat that meets their needs. According to the outlet, the migration could "indicate the inevitable and damaging consequences of human encroachment on the elephants' natural habitat."

Xinhua News Agency also reported that Asian elephants are protected by the state. As a result, the population size has grown from 193 in the 1980s, to 300 today. As such, herds may be competing for resources. The agency also says the growing density of forests has decreased the elephants' food supply, forcing them to flee their habitats in search of more food.

As the herd makes its way in and around Kunming, Xinhua News Agency said the Yunnan province—the province in which Kunming is located—"has taken measures to soothe the human-elephant conflict, including setting aside land to grow the elephants' favorite foods, indemnifying villagers against wildlife damages and setting up an alert system."

Mingyong told the outlet: "For these 15 elephants, all we can do at present is to issue early warnings and evacuate residents in time to minimize losses."

Asian elephants
A group of Asian elephants captured the hearts of people from all around the globe after a video of them cuddling in the Yunnan Forest went viral. The group migrated 300 miles from their home on a nature preserve, but experts don't know what caused the journey. ISHARA S. KODIKARA / Contributor/Getty