BEIJING - China’s famed wandering elephants are on the move again in southwest China and were heading several miles southwest near Yuxi City in Yunnan province between July 3 and 4, authorities said.
Video shared by local government authorities captured the animals walking in a line to their yet to be determined destination.
A lone male elephant has strayed 37 miles from the group and is northeast of the rest of the herd.
The group left a wildlife reserve in the southwest of Yunnan province more than a year ago and has trekked 300 miles north to the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kunming.
They have been spotted throughout various provinces and were most recently seen roaming near the Shijie township in the city of Yuxi, more than 5 miles southwest of the Kunming suburb.
Authorities have been attempting to keep a distance between them and local residents by blocking roads into villages and seeking to lure them away with food drops. Despite that, the herd of 15 has raided farms, strolled down urban streets and foraged for snacks in villages and even a retirement home.
All of the animals are reported to be healthy and no one has been injured in encounters with them. Officials have issued strict orders not to gawk at them or seek to drive them off using firecrackers or other means. China's roughly 300 wild elephants have the highest level of protected status, on par with the country's unofficial mascot, the panda bear.
It remains unclear why the elephants embarked on their trek, although Evan Sun, wildlife campaign manager with World Animal Protection, said possible reasons could include lack of food supply, a rise in the elephant population and, most importantly, loss of habitat.
"The increase of human-elephant conflicts reflects the urgency for a more strategic policy and plan to protect these endangered wild animals and their natural habitats," Sun wrote in an email to the Associated Press.
"This also poses a great opportunity to educate the public about the challenges that wild animals face for survival and the need for better protection from a government, industry and society level," Sun wrote. "These animals belong in the wild. We need to keep a safe distance from them, which is good for us and the wild animals."
This story was reported from Los Angeles. Storyful and The Associated Press contributed.