At least a dozen buzzing drones watch them around the clock. Wherever they went, they were escorted by the police. And when they eat or sleep, they are watched by millions online. For more than a week, China has been gripped by a new internet sensation: a herd of 15 marauding elephants that are large, lost and wreaking havoc in the southwest. Millions have tuned in to live streams of elephants that have traveled more than 300 miles across the country. country since escaping from a nature reserve in southern China last year. And online, netizens followed the transfixed as elephants trampled the harvest, causing more than millions of dollars in damage, and roamed the cities, forcing locals to stay inside. Viewers are particularly fascinated by the herd̵
At least a dozen buzzing drones watch them around the clock. Wherever they went, they were escorted by the police. And when they eat or sleep, they are watched by millions online.
For more than a week, China has been gripped by a new internet sensation: a herd of 15 marauding elephants that are large, lost and causing chaos in the southwestern part of the country.
Millions have joined live streams of elephants that have traveled more than 300 miles across the country since fleeing a nature reserve in southern China last year.
And online, network users are following the transformation as elephants trample on crops, causing more than a million dollars in damage, and roam the cities, forcing locals to stay inside.
Not surprisingly, breakthrough stars appeared. Viewers are particularly fascinated by the herd’s three calves, including one born during the epic journey, according to China’s state-run Global Times.
More than 8 million people watched a video this week showing a calf trapped under an adult elephant during a group nap near Kunming City in southwestern Yunnan Province. Another clip shows baby elephants clumsily stumbling as they follow the herd across the field, while a separate video shows a calf sinking its head into a pool while trying to drink water.
“Will they get cold during sleep?” worried a user on the Weibo social media site as photos from the herd’s time went viral. “I want to put them under a quilt.”
Human stars have even tried to ride the celebrity elephants. According to the Global Times, internet stars are fighting to get hold of the remains of corn and pineapple, which the authorities leave to lure elephants away from the cities. Videos posted online show the stars collecting and eating pineapple leftovers to attract viewers, the outlet said.
It is not yet clear why elephants travel north. Some argue that the shrinking rainforests in their homes may have prompted the trip. Others say they could just be lost – something that also worries elephant fans online.
“It’s really sad that we don’t know when they will reach their destination,” wrote another Weibo user.
There is a more serious side to elephant fun. Biologists see the situation as a warning of what happens when elephant habitats deteriorate.
Asian elephants are considered a protected species in China and about 300 of them live in Yunnan, according to Xinhua.
In the last few decades, agriculture has led to the loss of elephant habitats, leaving herds fragmented and isolated in increasingly shrinking plots of land, writes the newspaper Nature. Many elephants have been forced to seek food in agricultural areas, leading to an increase in human-elephant conflict over the past 10 years – something the authorities are clearly aware of.
Authorities are trying to divert elephants from the settlements to prevent any clashes. In late May, authorities set up a 24-hour command center to monitor elephants.
But the only way to prevent future elephant deportations is to restore their habitats and protect natural resources, said Zhang Li, a wildlife biologist and professor at Beijing Normal University, according to the Global Times.
“Traditional buffer zones between humans and elephants are gradually disappearing, and the chances of elephants meeting humans naturally increase significantly,” Zhang said.