For more than a week, China has been gripped by a new internet sensation: a herd of 15 predatory elephants, which are huge, lost and devastated in the southwest of the country.
Millions of people have been tuned into the direct streams of elephants, who have traveled more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) across the country since escaping from a nature reserve in South China last year.
And on the internet, internet users have been tracking transfers while elephants violated crops, causing more than a million dollars worth the damage, and wandered through the cities, causing the natives to stay inside.
Surprisingly, the explosion stars have come out. Viewers are particularly fascinated by the three herd calves, including one born during the epic journey, according to the Chinese state tabloid Global Times.
More than 8 million people watched a video captured this week showing a calf being found trapped under an adult elephant during a group nod near the city of Kunming in southwest Yunnan province. Another clip showed the little elephants crashing awkwardly as they chased the herd through a field, while a separate video showed a calf dipping its head into a pool while trying to swallow water.
“Will they get cold during sleep?” disturbed a user on the social media site Weibo while herd overnight photos went viral. “I want to put them under a quilt.”
Human stars have even tried to get away from the fame of elephants. According to Global Times, internet stars tried to get their hands on the remaining corn and pineapple, which authorities left to lure elephants away from cities. Videos posted online showed the stars taking and eating leftover pineapples to attract viewers, sales reported.
Still still unclear why the elephants are making the journey north. Some have claimed that the reduction of rainforest in their home may have spurred the trip. Others say they just might be lost – something that worries elephant lovers on the internet.
“It ‘s really sad that we do not know when they will reach their destination.” another user wrote on Weibo.
There is a more serious side to elephant fun. Biologists see the situation as a warning of what happens when elephant habitats degrade.
Asian elephants are considered a protected species in China, and about 300 of them live in Yunnan, according to Xinhua.
Over the past few decades, agriculture has led to a loss of elephant habitats, leaving herds fragmented and isolated on ever-shrinking plots of land, according to a paper in Nature. Many elephants are forced to forage instead, for food in agricultural areas, leading to an increase in human-elephant conflict in the last 10 years – something of which the authorities are clearly aware.
Authorities have tried to remove the elephants from populated areas to prevent any collisions. In late May, authorities set up a 24-hour command center to monitor elephants.
But the only way to prevent a future elephant exodus is to restore their habitats and protect natural resources, said Zhang Li, a wildlife biologist and professor at Peking 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 greatly,” Zhang said.
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