These Chinese Elephants Are Viral Stars—and Total Nuisances

Millions of people are watching the unconventional influencers' antics on Youtube and TikTok.

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The famous elephants napping.
Photo: Elena Scotti (Getty Images)

There’s a new group of Internet influencers hailing from China who are taking the world by a storm—or should I say stampede. They’re not TikTok stars or YouTubers, though they do frequently appear on both platforms. They can’t even hold phones, because they’re elephants.

Fifteen Asian elephants have been wandering around China for the past year. They left their home in a wildlife reserve in the southwestern province of Yunnan last March and have been trekking ever since, so far covering more than 300 miles (500 kilometers).


Experts aren’t exactly sure why the elephants journey began, though some speculate that they may be following an inexperienced herd leader or that their home on the reserve may have been too crowded or too degraded.

But this much is clear: Wherever they head now, people will be watching. According to the Chinese media outlet Xinhua News, more than a dozen video drones have been monitoring the elephants around the clock. Millions of people have been tuning into livestreams of the elephants’ wandering journey.


This week, the creatures stopped in a forest near the city of Kunming in Yunnan to take a long nap. When they did, national authorities sent out 410 emergency personnel and more than 4,400 pounds (1.996 kilograms) of elephant food to their napping spot. On Monday, officials posted a video this week showing a calf who got stuck under a sleeping, full-grown elephant during a group nap near the city of Kunming, in southwestern Yunnan province, and more than 8 million people tuned in. They started moving again on Tuesday.

As much as I love watching the raucous elephants, they haven’t always been easy for officials to deal with. For over a month, police have been escorting the herd on their journey, evacuating roads so the creatures can cross, and using treats to deter them from entering densely populated areas or damaging farmland. They’ve already caused $1 million in damage to crops, and a viral video shows them breaking into a car dealership. (Free idea for whoever’s working on the next Grand Theft Auto.)


But it’s hard to really blame them when the Asian elephant species has faced so much adversity. In the early 20th century, more than 100,000 Asian elephants may have roamed from Persian Gulf to India and China,. But since then, their numbers have been chopped in half due to habitat loss and degradation as well as poaching. Though they’re being adorable, maybe the herd’s journey is a cry for help. Hopefully the millions tuning into their trek are listening.