An award-winning photograph of a burning elephant calf and its mother fleeing a mob has brought attention to the inhuman treatment of jumbos in rural West Bengal.
The photograph taken on State Highway 9 in Jhargram district of West Bengal a year and a half ago by wildlife photographer Biplab Hazra won the 2017 Photograph of the Year award given by the wildlife photography magazine Sanctuary Asia on Sunday.
The picture shows a cow elephant and her baby fleeing across a road as fire scorches their delicate skin. In the lead, the mother’s expansive ears are angled forward in alarm and her calf screams in fear as the fire licks her feet.
The photograph triggered horrified responses on social media, with one Twitter user saying it “is a searing testimony of human monstrosity.”
The photograph was taken by Biplab Hazra, a brick kiln owner by profession and wildlife photographer by passion.
Surprisingly, the calf survived, the photographer said.
Recalling the taking of the picture, Hazra said the calf may not have been intentionally set on fire by villagers. The incident happened in an area that straddles a traditional elephant corridor that stretches from southwestern West Bengal up to Saranda forest in Jharkhand.
The practice of bursting crackers and throwing fireballs at elephant herds is a common practice there.
The photographer said he had never seen such an incident in all the 14 years that he has been clicking wildlife photographs. “All my concentration was on clicking the photograph. But since that incident, I have not witnessed any another incident when an elephant caught fire,” he added.
Asked why such a gruesome picture was picked for the award, Sanctuary Asia said the award was an attempt to raise awareness about the treatment of pachyderms in the country.
Speaking to New Indian Express, Sanctuary Asia editor Anirudh Nair said: “By awarding the photograph, we wanted to raise awareness on the violence routinely unleashed against elephants in West Bengal and in other parts of the country.”
Sanctuary Asia said violence and humiliation of elephants is routine in West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu. It’s the result of elephant habitats and routes being encroached upon, setting up human-elephant conflicts.
“The ignorance and bloodlust of mobs that attack herds for fun is compounded by the plight of those that who actually suffer damage to land, life and property by wandering elephants and the utter indifference of the central and state governments to recognise the crisis that is at hand,” said Sanctuary Asia on its Facebook page.
Human-elephant conflict is rife along elephant corridors in Bankura and Jhargram districts of West Bengal. While villagers complain that 40-50 strong herds of elephants destroy their crops and homes, their retaliation has traditionally been violent.
Crackers are burst and fires lit to shoo away herds which only triggers elephants’ rage and provokes them to more damage. In one such incident, an enraged elephant tossed a human in the air and crushed him under foot in Bankura district in mid-2016.
Later that year, the West Bengal government issued vehicles called ‘Airavat’ to forest teams to prevent herds from wandering into human habitations. However, not much has changed since then.
Credits : The Indian Express