KOLKATA: The elephant calf had somehow survived the brutal mob attack, recalled photographer Biplab Hazra while narrating the story behind the photograph of a burning elephant calf that won him the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Award 2017.
Hazra, a brick kiln owner by profession and a wildlife photographer by passion, told the New Indian Express, “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 photograph taken on State Highway 9 in Jhargram district of West Bengal was awarded the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Award 2017, felicitated by a Mumbai-based wildlife photography magazine Sanctuary Asia on Sunday.
Titled 'Hell is Here', Sanctuary Asia, on its Facebook page, described the incident with a caption: "In 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. India is the world's stronghold for the Asian elephant and boasts over 70 per cent of the global population of the species. But this achievement rings hollow as vital elephant habitats and routes continue to be ravaged, and human-elephant conflict escalates to a fatal degree. "
The award is an attempt to raise awareness about the treatment of pachyderms in the country, Sanctuary Asia editor Anirudh Nair told the New Indian Express. "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,” he added.
Human-elephant conflict is rife along the elephant corridor in Bankura and Jhargram districts of the state. While villagers complain that 40-50 strong herds of elephants destroy their ripe crops and smash their homes, their retaliation has traditionally been violent.
Crackers are bursted and fires raged to ward off the herds but due to this practice, the elephants get more enraged and cause even more damage to the public.
Hazra said, “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.”
In a separates comment to the Sanctuary Asia Facebook post, Mainaz Mazumdar, from Baroja village of Bankura district in West Bengal said, “Our village is frequently invaded by such 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 destructions (in this case the forest) the elephants are coming down onto the settlements. This has been a great problem over the years.”
“When the horde of elephants comes near to a village the respective forest office hires people to drive them back to the Jungle. These people are locally known as Hulia Party. They use strong and loud firecrackers, 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 suffered greatly at our hands. But it is also true that they wrecked havoc on these poor peasants that are entirely dependent on agriculture. They wasted paddy fields, potato fields, fields of wheat and so on. Many farmers committed suicide because of these damages. But worse still, they killed innocent people too.”
“The silver lining amongst all of this gloom is that now the forest department has reclaimed their senses and built deep trenches along the perimeter of the jungle fenced with electrical wire. That electrified fence won't kill them but it's strong enough to repel them. We left much of the worse behind us,” Mazumdar added.a