Keep your tissues handy… The winning photograph of the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017 was just announced, and it will likely break your heart.
The jarring photograph, aptly titled “Hell is Here,” was taken by Biplab Hazra in the Bankura district of West Bengal in India. It shows an adult elephant and its calf running for their lives — while they are ablaze. Behind them, a crowd of men cheers at having thrown flaming tar balls and firecrackers at the beautiful, majestic mammals.
Said Sanctuary Asia, a Mumbai-based wildlife magazine, in a statement: “For these smart, gentle, social animals who have roamed the sub-continent for centuries, hell is now and here.”
We are happy to report that the elephants survived this thoughtless assault. However, other animals in the country — such as the one-horned rhino — are still being targeted. In the states of Assam, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh, specifically, people often use fireworks, tin drums and harpoons to establish dominance and inspire fear in the great creatures.
This is of great concern, as India is home to 70 percent of the global Asian elephant population. The statement addresses this, saying:
“This achievement rings hollow as vital elephant habitats and routes continue to be ravaged, and human-elephant conflict escalates to a fatal degree. The ignorance and bloodlust of mobs that attack herds for fun, is compounded by the plight of those that actually suffer damage to land, life and property by wandering elephants and the utter indifference of the central and state government to recognise the crisis that is at hand.”
Indian citizens and tourists need to be educated on the proper etiquette around large mammals. Not only are angry mobs, habitat loss, and environmental degradation reducing the Asian elephant’s numbers, the mammals’ traditional migratory routes are becoming increasingly disturbed by new infrastructure development. This often results in an increasing number of run-ins between the pachyderms and humans — which often results in violence on the human side.
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