Angry mob lights baby elephant on fire with flaming tar ball in horrific photo

Alex Lasker,


A horrific photo of a mother and baby elephant fleeing an angry mob in West Bengal, India, has won the top award in a wildlife photography competition.

The hard-to-look-at image, taken by photographer Biplab Hazra, shows the two panicked pachyderms desperately trying to flee a large group of laughing men who are hurling flaming tar balls and firecrackers at the creatures.

Hazra's photo captures the exact moment one of the flaming weapons makes contact with the baby elephant, lighting the helpless animal's hind legs on fire while it screams out in pain. 

See the contest winners: 

In his entry to Sanctuary Wildlife’s Photography awards, Hazra writes that this is sadly not an uncommon scene in India, "the world's stronghold for the Asian elephant."

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 stoicly 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. In the Bankura district of West Bengal this sort of humiliation of pachyderms is routine.

Hazra said that, although India boasts 70 percent of the global population of the Asian elephant, vital elephant habitats and routes are often ravaged by human beings and the "human-elephant conflict" has escalated to a fatal degree.

"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," he wrote. "For these smart, gentle, social animals who have roamed the sub-continent for centuries, hell is now and here."

It remains unknown what became of the two elephants seen in the award-winning photo.

Hazra's devastating image was recognized by Sanctuary, India’s leading nature and conservation portal. The organization says it aims to "communicate to readers the rationale for wildlife conservation and environmental protection with a focus on the Indian subcontinent."

In the years since its inception, the group claims to have been at the fulcrum of innumerable wildlife conservation campaigns, conservation project and serves as a forum for wildlife groups, concerned individuals and non-profit organizations in the country.

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