In this jarring photograph, an adult elephant and its calf, startled and set ablaze, are desperately trying to escape a ball of flames. Up ahead in the distance, there’s a crowd of jeering men who have just throw flaming tar balls and firecrackers at them.
Biplab Hazra managed to capture this shocking scene in the Bankura district of West Bengal in India. Their photograph, aptly named “Hell is Here”, has recently been awarded the top prize at the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017.
“For these smart, gentle, social animals who have roamed the sub-continent for centuries, hell is now and here,” Sanctuary Asia, a well-established wildlife magazine based in Mumbai, said in a statement accompanying the photograph.
Luckily, this pair of elephants survived this pointless attack. However, these types of assaults on elephants, as well as other large animals like one-horned rhinos, are surprisingly common in certain parts of India such as the states of Assam, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh. It’s also common for people to use fireworks, tin drums, and harpoons to try and startle these great creatures.
India has over 70 percent of the world’s Asian elephants. This species is currently listed as "endangered" on the IUCN Red List. India’s rapidly expanding human population means they are becoming increasingly more affected by threats of habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Many of the elephants' traditional migratory routes are becoming disturbed by new infrastructure development, such as new roads or train tracks. This also leads to an increasing number of run-ins between humans and elephants, often resulting in violence on the human side.
“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 recognize the crisis that is at hand,” added Sanctuary Asia in the statement.
Some of the runners-up were equally impressive, showcasing a whole range of rare scenes from the natural world. You can check out the rest of images in the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017 gallery on their website.