For more than a week, China has been in the grip of a new internet sensation: a herd of 15 elephants that are large, lost and wreaking havoc in the country’s southwest.
Millions of people have tuned in for the survival of the elephants, who have traveled more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) across the country since escaping a nature reserve in south China last year.
More than 8 million people watched a video captured this week in which a calf found itself trapped under an adult elephant during a group nap near the city of Kunming in southwestern Yunnan province. Another clip shows a calf tripping clumsily as they chase a herd across a field, while a separate video shows a calf plunging head down into a pool while attempting to swallow water.
Elephant entertainment has a more serious side. Biologists see the situation as a reminder of what happens when elephant habitats deteriorate.
According to Xinhua, Asian elephants are considered a protected species in China, and about 300 of them live in Yunnan.
Officials are trying to drive the elephants away from populated areas to prevent any clash. In late May, officials set up a 24-hour command center to monitor the elephants.
But the only way to stop elephant migrations in the future 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.
“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 Jesse Young contributed to this report.