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Millions follow a herd of elephants in China online

(CNN) — At least a dozen drones monitor them 24 hours a day. Wherever they go, they are escorted by the police. And when they eat or sleep, millions of people watch them online.

For more than a week, China has been clinging to a new internet sensation: a herd of 15 massive marauding elephants that are lost and wreaking havoc in the south-west of the country.

Millions of people have tuned in to the live broadcasts of the elephants, which have traveled more than 500 kilometers across the country since they escaped from a nature reserve in southern China last year.

And on the internet, people have closely followed how elephants trampled crops, causing more than a million dollars in damage, and roamed through villages, forcing residents to stay indoors.

Millions in China watch the movements of the marauding elephant herd every day.

It’s no wonder some stars have emerged from the pack. Viewers are especially delighted with the group’s three hatchlings, including one born during the epic journey, according to Chinese state media. Global Times.

More than 8 million people watched a video recorded this week showing a calf being trapped under an adult elephant during a group nap near the city of Kunming in southwestern Yunnan province. Another video showed baby elephants stumbling awkwardly as they followed the herd through a field, while another showed a calf diving head first into a pond while trying to drink water.

“Will they be cold while they sleep?” A user on the Weibo social network was concerned when images of the pack’s nap went viral. “I want to tuck them under a duvet,” he added.

Human stars have even tried to take advantage of the celebrity of the elephants. According Global TimesInternet personalities rushed to get the leftover corn and pineapple that authorities have placed in the countryside to try to get the elephants away from the cities. The posted videos show the star collecting and eating pineapple scraps in an attempt to gain a following, the outlet reported.

Herd of elephants roam the streets of China 1:03

It is not yet clear why the elephants are traveling north. Some have argued that the decline of the rainforest in their home may have caused the exodus. Others say they could simply 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 user on Weibo.

Degraded environment

The elephant show has a more serious side. Biologists see the situation as a warning of what happens when the habitats of these animals are degraded.

The destruction of tropical forests increases in 2020 1:11

Asian elephants are considered a protected species in China. About 300 of them live in Yunnan, according to Xinhua.

In recent decades, agriculture has caused the loss of habitat for elephants, leaving herds fragmented and isolated on smaller and smaller patches of land, according to an article published in Nature. Many elephants are forced to forage for food in agricultural areas, leading to an increase in human-elephant conflict over the past 10 years, something the authorities are clearly aware of.

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The elephant herd in China has wreaked US $ 1.1 million havoc, especially from crop damage.

The authorities have tried to keep the elephants away from populated areas to avoid clashes. In late May, they created 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. Global Times.

“The traditional buffer zones between humans and elephants are gradually disappearing, and the chances of elephants encountering humans naturally are greatly increasing,” Zhang said.

With information from Jessie Yeung.

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