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.
More 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.
There’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.
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.
CNN’s Jessie Yeung contributed to this report.