Photo of elephant and calf fleeing fire-throwing mob wins top prize

Photograph taken in eastern India, titled ‘Hell is here’, shows crowd hurling flaming tar balls at animals

An arresting image showing an adult elephant and its calf fleeing a mob attack has won a top Asian wildlife photography prize.

It shows the two animals running among a crowd that has hurled flaming tar balls and crackers at them, reportedly to ward the elephants away from human settlements.

The picture, titled “Hell is here”, was taken by Biplab Hazra, a wildlife photographer from West Bengal state, and won the 2017 Sanctuary’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

The Sanctuary Nature Foundation, which awarded the prize, said: “In the Bankura district of West Bengal, this sort of humiliation of pachyderms is routine, as it is in the other elephant-range states of Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and more.”

“This sort of conflict is increasing every day,” said Christy Williams, the World Wildlife Fund country director in Myanmar, who researches elephants in the region.

He said elephants were increasingly being pushed out of existing habitats by human behaviour. “There are forests being cut down, degraded, and also being fragmented by development like new roads and pipelines.”

India is home to around 30,000 Asian elephants, 70% of the world’s population, with around 800 in West Bengal, according to the most recent official count.

Co-existence between humans and elephants was especially difficult, Williams said.

“Elephants are huge – they are the biggest mammal on land and they have huge home ranges, around 800 sq km. Such huge unreserved forest tracts are becoming very rare,” he said.

“In the end, humans always win, whatever the species, however powerful it is.”


Michael Safi in Delhi

The GuardianTramp

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