Elephants and humans have long lived side by side in Southeast Asia, but as the human population continues to grow in the region, conflicts between man and animal are increasing.
The problem has perhaps never been clearer than in this photo showing a female elephant and her calf fleeing desperately after being set on fire by a group of men in India. The horrific image, which won Sanctuary Magazine’s award for best wildlife photography, shows the human-elephant conflict at its most extreme.
Unfortunately, this kind of violence is becoming more typical in countries like India, where nearly two-thirds of the world’s Asian elephants live. Combine that with an exploding human population, and you’ve got trouble.
Elephants are foragers, typically migrating for long distances in search of food and eating up to 700 pounds of vegetation each day. But with much of their habitats being converted to farmland and man-made barriers like highways disrupting their established migration routes, the animals are increasingly finding themselves in human territory.
These giant pachyderms regularly raid crops and destroy property as they make their way through villages. And, despite their gentle reputation, encounters with humans can sometimes be deadly — up to 300 people are killed by elephants in India each year, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The damage can be costly and residents often retaliate by killing rogue elephants or trying to ward them off with fire, which may have been the case in the photo.
“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,” reads the caption accompanying the image, taken by photographer Biplab Hazra.
“For these smart, gentle, social animals who have roamed the sub-continent for centuries, hell is now and here.”