(CNN)At least a dozen buzzing drones monitor them around the clock. Wherever they go, they’re escorted by police. And when they eat or sleep, they’re watched by millions online.

For more than a week, China has been gripped by a new internet sensation: a herd of 15 marauding elephants, who are large, lost and wrecking havoc in the country’s southwest. Millions have tuned in to livestreams of the elephants, which have trekked more 500 kilometers (310 miles) across the country since escaping from a nature reserve in South China last year.And online, netizens have followed transfixed as the elephants trampled crops, causing more than a million dollars worth of damage, and roamed through towns, prompting local residents to stay inside. Wild Asian elephants in Jinning District of Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province on June 6.Wild Asian elephants in Jinning District of Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province on June 6.Wild Asian elephants in Jinning District of Kunming, southwest China’s Yunnan Province on June 6.Unsurprisingly, breakout stars have emerged. Viewers are particularly charmed by the herd’s three calves, including one who was born during the epic journey, according to Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times. Read MoreMore than 8 million people watched a video captured this week showing a calf who found itself stuck under an adult elephant during a group nap near the city of Kunming, in southwestern Yunnan province. Another clip showed baby elephants clumsily tripping as they followed the herd across a field, while a separate video showed a calf plunging head-first into a pool as it attempted to gulp down water. “Will they get cold while sleeping?” worried one user on social media site Weibo as pictures of the herd’s naptime went viral. “I want to tuck them up under a quilt.”Human stars have even tried to ride off the elephants’ celebrity. According to Global Times, internet stars scrambled to get their hands on leftover corn and pineapple, which authorities left out to lure elephants away from cities. Videos posted online showed the stars picking up and eating leftover pineapple to attract viewers, the outlet reported. The herd began its journey in the southwestern province of Yunnan, traveling from the nature reserve in Xishuangbanna to Yuxi, a city of 2.6 million people.The herd began its journey in the southwestern province of Yunnan, traveling from the nature reserve in Xishuangbanna to Yuxi, a city of 2.6 million people. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaThe herd began its journey in the southwestern province of Yunnan, traveling from the nature reserve in Xishuangbanna to Yuxi, a city of 2.6 million people.Hide Caption 1 of 10The elephants have made a 500-kilometer (311-mile) trek leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, according to state news agency Xinhua.The elephants have made a 500-kilometer (311-mile) trek leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, according to state news agency Xinhua. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaThe elephants have made a 500-kilometer (311-mile) trek leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, according to state news agency Xinhua.Hide Caption 2 of 10It is unclear why they left their nature reserve home. It is unclear why they left their nature reserve home. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaIt is unclear why they left their nature reserve home. Hide Caption 3 of 10On their travels, the elephants have caused 412 separate incidents of damage, Xinhua reported. On their travels, the elephants have caused 412 separate incidents of damage, Xinhua reported. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaOn their travels, the elephants have caused 412 separate incidents of damage, Xinhua reported. Hide Caption 4 of 10The creatures have also caused significant disruption to locals. Residents have been told to stay indoors and pedestrians and vehicles were evacuated in the town of Eshan after the elephants roamed the streets for six hours.The creatures have also caused significant disruption to locals. Residents have been told to stay indoors and pedestrians and vehicles were evacuated in the town of Eshan after the elephants roamed the streets for six hours. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaThe creatures have also caused significant disruption to locals. Residents have been told to stay indoors and pedestrians and vehicles were evacuated in the town of Eshan after the elephants roamed the streets for six hours.Hide Caption 5 of 10Authorities established a 24-hour command center to monitor the animals after they were seen in the Hongta District of Yuxi on Monday.Authorities established a 24-hour command center to monitor the animals after they were seen in the Hongta District of Yuxi on Monday. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaAuthorities established a 24-hour command center to monitor the animals after they were seen in the Hongta District of Yuxi on Monday.Hide Caption 6 of 10Over 360 people, 76 police cars and dirt trucks and nine drones are part of a task force following the elephants.Over 360 people, 76 police cars and dirt trucks and nine drones are part of a task force following the elephants. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaOver 360 people, 76 police cars and dirt trucks and nine drones are part of a task force following the elephants.Hide Caption 7 of 10The elephants have destroyed 56 hectares of farmland in the counties of Yuanjiang and Shiping alone, the agency said.The elephants have destroyed 56 hectares of farmland in the counties of Yuanjiang and Shiping alone, the agency said. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaThe elephants have destroyed 56 hectares of farmland in the counties of Yuanjiang and Shiping alone, the agency said.Hide Caption 8 of 10Of the 15 elephants, one male has broken free from the herd and is currently about 4 km to the northeast of the group, according to the on-site command tracking the elephants.Of the 15 elephants, one male has broken free from the herd and is currently about 4 km to the northeast of the group, according to the on-site command tracking the elephants. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaOf the 15 elephants, one male has broken free from the herd and is currently about 4 km to the northeast of the group, according to the on-site command tracking the elephants.Hide Caption 9 of 10Monitoring images show the herd is comprised of six female adults, three male adults, three sub-adults and three calves.Monitoring images show the herd is comprised of six female adults, three male adults, three sub-adults and three calves. Photos: In photos: Elephant herd leaves trail of destruction as it roams across ChinaMonitoring images show the herd is comprised of six female adults, three male adults, three sub-adults and three calves.Hide Caption 10 of 1012 elephants escape intl03 elephants escape intl02 elephants escape intl01 elephants escape intl05 elephants escape intl06 elephants escape intl07 elephants escape intl08 elephants escape intl10 elephants escape intl11 elephants escape intlIt’s still unclear why the elephants are making the journey north. Some have posited that shrinking rainforests in their home 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,” another user wrote on Weibo. Degraded environmentThere’s a more serious side to the elephant entertainment. Biologists see the situation as a warning of what happens when elephant habitats are degraded. Asian elephants are considered a protected species in China, and around 300 of them live in Yunnan, according to Xinhua.Workers prepare a drone to monitor the migrating wild Asian elephants in Eshan County, Yuxi City, southwest China's Yunnan Province on May 29.Workers prepare a drone to monitor the migrating wild Asian elephants in Eshan County, Yuxi City, southwest China's Yunnan Province on May 29.Workers prepare a drone to monitor the migrating wild Asian elephants in Eshan County, Yuxi City, southwest China’s Yunnan Province on May 29.Over the last few decades, agriculture has led to a loss of elephant habitats, leaving herds fragmented and isolated in ever-shrinking plots of land, according to a paper in Nature. Many elephants are forced to forage for food in agricultural areas instead, leading to a rise in human-elephant conflict in the last 10 years — something authorities are clearly keenly aware of. Authorities have been trying to steer the elephants away from populated areas to prevent any clashes. At the end of May, authorities set up a 24-hour command center to monitor the 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 Beijing Normal University, according to Global Times.”The traditional buffer zones between humans and elephants are gradually disappearing, and the chances of elephants’ encountering humans naturally increase greatly,” Zhang said.

Source Link:
https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/09/china/elephants-china-yunnan-intl-hnk/index.html

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