THE BLAZING baby elephant whose fiery plight shocked the world escaped back into the jungle, the photographer who captured the image has revealed.
The back legs of the baby elephant are consumed by fire as it chases after its startled mother, screaming.
Scenes of the terrified animal fleeing from a mob throwing flaming tar balls won photographer Biplab Hazra a prestigious award and highlighted the awful realities of human elephant conflict.
With up to 300 people a year dying under the feet of Asian elephants across India, deadly incidents are almost a daily occurrence as the giant creatures lose their jungle haunts to humans.
Up to 50 elephants also die in the undeclared war.
Having given a graphic portrayal of what is happening in so many Indian states, Hazra has told how the baby elephant did not become another statistic.
Hazra, who owns a brick kiln and photographs animals as a pastime, says the baby elephant escaped its ordeal and has also revealed a surprising twist about the incident.
He says: “I had never seen such an incident in 14 years of my wildlife photography career.
“All my concentration was only on clicking the photograph.
“The calf may not have been intentionally set on fire by the villagers living in the vicinity of the elephant corridor that stretches from southwestern West Bengal up to Saranda forest in Jharkhand, but bursting crackers and throwing fireballs on elephant herds has been a common practice in this part of West Bengal.”
Hazra was speaking to the Indian media after receiving the accolade of Sanctuary Asia’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017, with his image, titled Hell is Here.
In caption notes, Hazra’s experience is put into words as graphic as his image.
It reads: “The heat from the fire scorches their delicate skin as mother and child attempt to flee the mob.
“In the lead, the cow’s expansive ears are angled forward as she stoically ignores the crowd of jeering men.
Behind her, her calf screams in confusion and fear as the fire licks at her feet. Flaming tar balls and crackers fly through the air to a soundtrack of human laughter and shouts.” Such violent scenes made the picture a compelling winner for the top award, with Sanctuary Asia editor Anirudh Nair explaining: “By awarding the photograph, we wanted to raise awareness on the practice of violence against elephants in West Bengal and in other parts of the country.” As the photograph becomes one of globally witnessed scenes from India’s elephant conflict, one villager from the same part of the country has given an explicit description of how the confrontations pan out – and how there is hope for the future. Writing on the Sanctuary Asia Facebook page, Mainak Mazumder from a village in the Bankura district of west Bengal explains: “Our village is frequently invaded by these wild and unruly animals that come all the way from Dalma range of forests. The fault of course lies with us.
Because of heavy habitat destruction, in this case the forest, the elephants are coming down onto the settlements. This has been a great problem over the years. And, as the picture shows, these elephants have been subjected to terrible abuses and tortures.” He goes on to describe how people are hired to drive the elephants back into the jungle. They use strong and loud fire crackers, big and bright lights, harpoons, tin drums to make noises to scare them off, torches and bow and arrow.
“There is no controversy that these poor creatures suffer greatly at our hands.” But the villager says the elephants also wreak havoc on the poor peasants, wasting rice paddies and crops fields, driving farmers to suicide.
He adds: “The silver lining among all of this gloom is that now the forest department has built deep trenches along the perimeter of the jungle fenced with electrical wire. The electrified fence will not kill the elephants but it is strong enough to repel them.”