Clips of the moment started to circulate online over the weekend and have since racked up millions of views — skyrocketing Kaunda and the curious young elephant to viral fame. The brief interaction between reporter and subject delighted viewers and left many in awe of Kaunda’s ability to maintain his composure for as long as he did. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a nonprofit that runs the orphanage, identified the elephant as Kindani, a 4-year-old female who was rescued in April 2018.
“Baby elephant disrupting a TV reporter is the best part of today,” tweeted one Twitter user, who shared a video of the exchange that has been watched more than 11.8 million times as of Wednesday.
For Kaunda, it all started as just another day on the job.
The Kenya Broadcasting Corp. reporter was on assignment at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage, according to Kenyans.co.ke. Kenya has been battling its worst drought in four decades, and local officials say the extreme weather is killing 20 times as many elephants as poaching. A recent report released by the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife revealed that more than a thousand animals have died as a result of the drought, including wildebeests, zebras, elephants and buffaloes.
Kaunda told a local Kenyan radio station that he knew he wanted to set up a shot at the orphanage where he would be speaking in front of the elephants. But he was struggling to get through his report and had already attempted 10 takes — all of which were unsuccessful.
“I’d kept my distance, but I was so focused and didn’t even realize they were getting close,” he said.
At the start of what would become the viral moment, Kaunda, clad in a T-shirt and a red and navy jacket, can be seen standing among several reddish-brown elephants gripping a microphone bearing the KBC logo in his hand. In the background, Kindani has her trunk draped over the back of one of the other elephants.
“Here we go,” says a faint voice off camera.
With a quick inhale, Kaunda focuses his gaze into the camera and begins.
“It is said charity begins at home,” Kaunda says, his expression serious, “and for these young orphaned elephants, this charitable foundation is what they call home.”
He briefly looks away from the camera when one of the elephants appears to nudge the side of his body with its head, but he doesn’t falter. Instead, he places a gentle hand on top of the elephant’s head and forges on, seemingly determined to get a usable take.
Kindani, though, now directly behind him, appears to have other plans.
“And with the rising drought cases, it is up to us to be guardians of our own natural world,” Kaunda says, ignoring the probing elephant trunk doing a close examination of his ear. It moves on to the top of his head before inching down toward the center of his face, forcing Kaunda to close his eyes as he valiantly continues talking.
But when Kindani’s trunk starts groping around his nose and mouth, the reporter gives up. Letting out a high-pitched giggle, he squirms, drawing laughter from off camera while the elephant swiftly pulls back her trunk.
On social media, the interaction, which lasted less than a minute, was soon captivating people around the world.
“Most of us would have lost our professionalism far sooner!” the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust tweeted. “An important piece pertaining to the drought, but our orphans just saw a visitor to investigate!”
Kindani “knows exactly what she’s plotting to do,” the organization added in another tweet, responding to a Twitter user who pointed out the elephant’s eyes just moments before she approached Kaunda. “The side eye is often a precursor to cheeky behaviour.”
Pitted against the willful elephant, many viewers were impressed by Kaunda’s resolve.
“I’m amazed at how long this reporter was able to keep his composure,” one person tweeted. “I would’ve started laughing at the first touch.”
Another Twitter user applauded the journalist for his “amazing professional control.”
“The reporter stayed the course until it was no longer possible to do so,” the person wrote. “I’m glad he laughed at the end, did my heart good.”
In the interview with the Kenyan radio station, Kaunda described the trunk as “ticklish,” saying, “[I] just tried to keep my cool.”
“It actually didn’t have any smell,” he said. “I’m sure if it had a foul smell it would have really distracted me. It wasn’t normal, but I liked the experience.”
Kaunda, who calls himself as a “wildlife enthusiast,” said he hopes to experience more of these encounters, adding that he has a goal of “getting close” to several species of animals. “So far only two are left; the lion and the leopard.”