Elephants firebombed by mob in award-winning photo that leaves judges in tears

A disturbing photo entitled “Hell is Here” shows a mother elephant and its calf getting firebombed by a mob in a clear illustration of the escalating conflict between elephants and humans in India.

The photo captured by Biplab Hazra in the Bankura district of West Begal earned him the Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the 2017 Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards, as reported by The Guardian.

“All the judges were extremely saddened [and] in tears when we first saw this image,” Parvish Pandya wrote on the Sanctuary Asia Facebook post.

“The heat from the fire scorches their delicate skin as mother and child attempt to flee the mob,” the winning photo description reads on the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017 site. “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.”

Sadly, abusive behavior toward elephants like this “is routine,” as it also occurs in the Indian states of Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and others.

India has 70 percent of the global population of Asian elephants and humans are pushing them out of their existing habitat in what has become a colossal crisis.

“This sort of conflict is increasing every day,” Christy Williams, a director of the World Wildlife Fund in Myanmar, told The Guardian. “There are forests being cut down, degraded, and also being fragmented by development like new roads and pipelines.”

Not surprisingly, Hazra’s image sparked anger and sorrow on social media. Among the comments on Sanctuary Asia’s Facebook post:

“This is deeply upsetting. We take their places and then hurl fire at them. I don’t know who’s the human here.”

“Gosh this image makes me soooooo mad! These [idiots] should be set on fire.”

“What is wrong with these people?”

“Heartbreaking to see the suffering.”

“Who’s the animal here?”

Of the estimated 30,000 Asian elephants that live in India, 800 exist in West Bengal. Their home ranges span 310 square miles and with that habitat disappearing, wandering elephants cause “damage to land, life and property.”

The photo description says the central and state governments fail to recognize the crisis, adding, “For these smart, gentle, social animals who have roamed the sub-continent for centuries, hell is now and here.”

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