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Fifteen Asian elephants caught the world’s attention as they trekked northwards for about 500 kilometres from Xishuangbanna prefecture in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan (see go.nature.com/3wofhfc). Their epic journey is widely considered to be a quest for better resources — almost 40% of the animals’ habitat in Xishuangbanna has been lost to commercial development over the past 20 years. We call for an integrated system of national park reserves for China’s elephants. This should be protected and take into account their foraging habits, migration patterns and other phased activities.