Hell is here: Burning elephant photo wins award
A striking photo of an adult elephant and its calf fleeing a mob attack has won a top Asian wildlife photography prize.
It shows the two animals running for their lives from a crowd that had tossed flaming tar balls and crackers at them in a bid to scare them away from human settlements.
Titled Hell is Here, the photograph was taken by Biplab Hazra in the Bankura district of West Bengal and won the 2017 Sanctuary's Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.
The award was founded by the Sanctuary Nature Foundation, a Mumbai based non-governmental organisation that works towards biodiversity conservation and community engagement.
It throws light upon the troubling conflict between humans and elephants in the populous country.
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. The scenes of "pachyderm humiliation" are routine across many states.
While it is largely reported that elephants compensate for habitat loss by eating crops, bulls in particular may take advantage of the easy availability of crops and stored grain. Additionally, eating crops may also be a learned behaviour. Calves may learn to crop raid from the adults in the herd or young dispersing bulls may learn by associating with bulls that do.
Elephants and their habitat also pay the price of conflict; while forty to fifty are killed a year while crop-raiding, forests are destroyed in the belief that it will prevent them from using the area. Discontented local farmers will frequently aid poachers in killing problem wildlife.
What can be done?
Human-elephant conflict mitigation measures fall under two categories: the short-term and the long-term solutions that address the underlying causes.
The majority of current solutions either target problem elephants or apply short-term conflict mitigation at the interface between expanding agriculture and diminishing elephant range and therefore achieve only limited success.
Easier and unarming measures include prayer, noise (shouting, beating drums, burning bamboo, bursting fire crackers), light (fire at entry points to fields, powerful spotlights) and missiles (stones, spears). Platforms on trees (machaan) or huts at ground-level are used as look-outs and manned by individual farmers or groups guarding several fields cooperatively.