Members of an elephant herd making a 500-kilometer trip through southwestern China have become international stars.
The 15-member herd was already receiving wide coverage in China. But now, the group’s long trip is being documented by major media companies and on social media.
The elephants are traveling from their home, in a mountainous area of Yunnan province, toward the city of Kunming.
YouTube and Twitter are full of video clips showing interesting behavior of the animals as they continue their path across farmland, villages and around cities. One of the most popular clips showed two young elephants being helped out of a ditch by older members of the group.
The elephants have also drawn widespread attention on China's Weibo social media service. Pictures of the group sleeping received 25,000 posts and more than 200 million views.
The herd has been filmed continuously from the sky by drones and caught on security cameras walking down city streets. The elephants are being followed by individuals seeking to limit damage from the animals and to keep them and people safe.
While no animals or people have been hurt during the trip, media reports have estimated crop damage to be more than $1 million.
The elephants have invaded farms looking for food and water, visited a car dealership and even showed up at a retirement home. At the home, some elephants attempted to visit rooms, leading one man to hide under his bed.
Sixteen animals started out in the group. But the government says two returned home and a baby was born during the walk.
Officials in China say they are not sure exactly what persuaded the elephants to make their long trip. They do, however, seem to be drawn to corn, fruits and other tasty crops they find along the way. Some experts say the elephants might have left because their leader might have gotten lost.
Asian elephants are loyal to their home areas unless there have major changes to the environment, a loss of resources or development, said Nilanga Jayasinghe, of the World Wildlife Fund.
“In this case, we don’t really know why they left their home range,” she told The Associated Press. She added that the area where they lived had seen major “habitat loss” linked to agriculture expansion.
“What possibly happened here is that in their search for new habitat, they got lost along the way and kept going," Jayasinghe added.
Elephants are given the top level of protection in China. This permits their numbers to continually increase even as their natural habitat shrinks.
Chinese officials have ordered people to stay inside and not to look at the elephants or try to keep them away with fireworks or other things. Officials in cities have used trucks and building equipment to block the animals from entering and have dropped food to keep them away.
As of Tuesday, the herd remained outside Kunming, a city of 7 million people. Officials in the area said in a statement Monday a command center had been set up to watch the elephants.
More than 400 emergency workers and police were standing by and the herd was being watched by 14 drones. People living nearby were ordered to leave the area and officials put out 2 tons of elephant food.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
herd – n. a large group of animals that live and eat together
ditch – n. a long, narrow hole in the ground where water can flow
drone – n. a small, unmanned plane
range – n. an area in nature with hills or mountains
habitat – n. the natural environment of an animal or plant