A prize-winning image shows a mob setting an elephant mother and calf on fire

This photo, which won the young photographer Nature in Urbania category, shows a bonnet macaque peeping out from the wheel well of a tourism vehicle.

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This photo, which won the young photographer Nature in Urbania category, shows a bonnet macaque peeping out from the wheel well of a tourism vehicle.
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Sitara A. Karthikeyan/The Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

  • The winners of the prestigious Sanctuary Asia magazine photo contest award have been announced.
  • Many of the images portray the complicated and often dark relationship between humans and nature.
  • This year’s overall winner is particularly disturbing: It shows a mob pelting a mother elephant and her calf with flaming balls of tar.

On November 7, the Sanctuary Asia conservation magazine announced the winners from the 2017 Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards contest.

Many of the winning photos depict the complex – and often dark – interaction between humans and other living creatures. Some images, like the shot above by Sitara A. Karthikeyan, highlight the effects of disappearing habitats. That photo, titled “Valpari Vagrant”, shows how a combination of shrinking wild areas and tourists’ habit of feeding wild monkeys have led macaques to hang around humans, trying to co-exist as best they can.

The photo that won the overall wildlife photographer of the year contest, however, is particularly disturbing.

In the image below, “Hell is Here” by Biplab Hazra, a mob pelts a mother elephant and her calf with burning balls of tar.

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“Hell is Here” by Biplab Hazra.
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Biplab Hazra/The Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

It’s hard to look at. In the caption for the winning image, Hazra explained that this shocking scene is actually a common one.

“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 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. In the Bankura district of 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 home to more than 70% of the global population of Asian elephants, but interactions between people and these animals are not always peaceful. According to Hazra:

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

The conservation organization’s photo contest is meant to highlight powerful photos that can evoke supportive human responses. But not every one is as dark as the contest winner.

The image below, “Between a Rock and Hard Place”, shot by Anand Bora, won the conservation photography category.

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“Between a Rock and Hard Place” by Anand Bora.
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Anand Bora/The Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

The leopard in that well had fallen in and kept itself alive by swimming for 30 hours before it was discovered. After spotting the animal, villagers managed to help forest officials devise a way to get the big cat out of the well.

“All our inspiration springs from nature… music, dance, philosophies, religions, culture, arts… and photography,” Bittu Sahgal, Founder and Editor at Sanctuary Asia said in a news release. “These awards are Sanctuary’s way of acknowledging this reality and reminding us all to celebrate, revere and protect this source of life.”