Image of elephant set on fire in India spurs HSI plan of action

By on November 13, 2017 with 22 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Titled “Hell is Here,” the photo is as jarring as they come: two elephants, one a baby, fleeing a jeering mob with murderous intentions, the juvenile pachyderm partially engulfed in flames. The mother elephant is in the lead, her ears angled forward, visibly distressed as she tries to get her baby away from the danger.

“Behind her, her calf screams in confusion and fear as the fire licks at her feet,” writes Sanctuary Asia magazine, which recognized the West Bengal state photographer Biplab Hazra with its Photographer of the Year prize. “Flaming tar balls and crackers fly through the air to a soundtrack of human laughter and shouts.”

The photograph captures the pernicious hostility that some locals in the Indian state of West Bengal have expressed toward Asian elephants in their communities. With the human population soaring, in a nation with more than a billion people, human-elephant conflicts are on the rise, and these elephants also are facing a gauntlet of human-caused threats. The population of wild elephants in India is increasing or stable according to some researchers, and elephant populations are dispersing at the same time that human development and settlement intrude on forested areas. At times, elephants kill people, and those tragedies stoke fear and often trigger retribution. This makes it all the more critical that we find ways to mitigate these conflicts, so that the members of both species don’t lash out, in anger or in defense, and try to kill.

Here are the initial elements of our plan, spurred by the haunting image of the elephants afire:

  • Humane Society International/India has launched a tip-line for people to report cases of illegal actions targeting elephants, from flaming tar balls to high voltage wires and shooting. The focus of the pilot program is concentrated in habitat corridors in the districts of Bankura and Jhargram, where the people in the now infamous photos attacked the elephants.
  • HSI/India has also written to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, asking its leaders to develop a protocol for news reporting of human-wildlife conflict across the country.
  • We are also offering a reward of up to 10,000 Indian rupees for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for such illegal activities. People are urged to report such activities at +918899117773.
  • HSI is urging the chief secretary of the West Bengal government to issue directions for the development, training, and implementation of crowd control protocols in areas affected by human-wildlife conflicts. It has also sent a legal notice to the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Forest Department, and local and state police in West Bengal calling on them to work to prevent human-elephant conflicts.

The Asian elephant is a protected species under Indian law, which permits the erection of solar-powered fencing to ward off wild animals from agricultural estates with a mild jolt. HSI supports the limited use of electric fencing in certain human-animal conflict situations, but only as long as the fence is professionally installed, maintained, monitored, and the voltage is low enough to prevent harm to wildlife.

West Bengal did contemplate the use of immunocontraception as a technique to stabilize the population of elephants in the long run but that effort was shot down by the Supreme Court of India without understanding the intent or the technique. HSI is fighting to vacate this stay so the technique can be researched further and be available as an option for wildlife managers.

It is estimated that 70 percent of the world’s Asian elephants live in India. They are an integral part of the ecosystem and rural economies (since they are a draw for wildlife watchers who will pay for the opportunity to see these creatures in their native habitats). Finding effective ways to allow human and elephant communities to co-exist is a priority for us. But as our HSI/India director N. G. Jayasimha points out, illegal encroachment and other non-forestry activities seriously threaten the population of elephants and increase the potential for human-elephant conflict. While the fate of those two elephants set on fire by a mob remains unknown, we hope the tip-line and reward will encourage people to report and fight illegal activities against elephants, preventing such cruel incidents from ever taking place.


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  1. Melissa sangenario says:

    People can be so cruel.they have no respect for animals at all.Why don’t they just leave them alone. I AM SO TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT ANIMAL ABUSE. IT’S SICKENING!!

    • Nancy Madej says:

      I agree they are probably bored and can get away with it they have no other form of entertainment. I am sick of the horrific things done to animals in Asia Was there not some place they put bee hives to ward off the elephants the elephants would pass through them and they harvested the honey??? I real win win situation.??? I am positive

  2. Susan Clark says:

    I feel helpless as to the fate of the elephants, one being a baby set on fire in India. I can’t send money. I sign petitions and post on twitter and Facebook. How can we know if those elephants survived and if they are getting help?

  3. Nancy Telese says:

    The people of India need proper education and knowledge to protect the elephants. The Indian people that would set fire to elephants are backwards and undereducated. The people of the village and community need to be taught have to avoid conflicts and protect elephants

    • Jeroen says:

      No one ever needed to teach me not to do horrible things like this. People doing things like this and even laughing about it are not undereducated but simply scum. The world would be better off without these people.

  4. Michele OBrien says:

    Yes I saw the original and what makes this even more horrific is that apparently the individuals who were torturing these elephants were laughing as the little one screamed in pain and fear and ran. I would love to know what happened to those poor creatures. I suspect that the little one was burned and hopefully by this time has recovered somewhat. People disgust me especially ignorant so-called human beings like these. It’s the fact that these people were laughing as they tormented these elephants that really really gets to me. I have no use for those miscreants.

    I’m glad you’re trying to do something about it…so very glad. I do have a better solution but mine is not printable. Anyway thank you for trying to do something to help.

    • susan says:

      you took the words out of my mouth. thank you.

    • Jayashree sarathy says:

      The sadistic senseless and brutal behaviour of the humans must be checked, They have to be educated, The theory of taking revenge on the aggressor is becoming extinct. How can you indulge in revenge assuming the animal is causing injury to you?In human relationships we are advocating forget and forgive.The companion animals should be treated with compassion and those are part of the environment and creation of God , jayashree sarathy

  5. Geraldine L Loar says:

    What a horrible thing to do to helpless elephants adult and baby.

  6. Debaera Bisceglia says:

    Thanks for helping these helpless animals…God’s children, too. God bless you.

  7. Nikki Elaman says:

    People are the worst in this world!!!
    Thankful there are good humans!!!!!
    Another reason why the world is rotting!!!

  8. Susan Whiteheadd says:

    I was horrified that the photograph was widely displayed in the news media with the headline of “AWARD WINNING PHOTOGRAPH”. My first thought was did any one help or assist this young animal and if so was it able to survive such a vicious attack? At least, the result of having seen this “face of the cruelty”, action has been taken to attempt to help resolve the conflict. As human population continues to grow unabated in third world countries, the crowding of wild animals unfortunately seems doomed to remain a serious problem. As a monthly supporter of HSI, I encourage your work in this area.

  9. Sharon Fox says:

    We humans, continue to act in ways that devalues our “humanity”. We should be good and kind stewards to all creatures and ecosystems on this planet. Instead we choose to destroy, torture and decimate all that is wonderful and beautiful. So sad what was done to these beautiful animals. Hoping that those responsible are held accountable but aren’t we all responsible in some way?

  10. Annoula Wylderich says:

    I was horrified by the image, but not surprised. Wildlife is being blamed for a host of problems in overseas countries, from crop destruction to other transgressions. Those affected fail to acknowledge that it is human actions that are prompting this, such as destruction of habitats, development which encroaches upon the animals’ habitats, etc. Affected villagers don’t care about that; they only see the consequence, which is desperate animals trying to survive in a quickly changing world. HSI has a clear grasp of this situation and the capability to initiate significant ways to resolve it. I’m glad that HSUS has various “arms” that extend to global issues involving animal protection.

  11. Deborah trussell says:

    My god these poor animals are so abused,how can any one not see how crule, this has to stoo, let be free to live the wsy god intended

  12. Laura Corriss says:

    I haven’t been able to sleep peacefully since seeing the photo. The people who set the elephants on fire are ignorant and cruel. Anyone who would do such a thing to a baby animal would do the same to a human child. They should be severely punished. I am glad to see that action is being taken. Education and protected areas for the elephants will help, but what is also needed is human population control. In the meantime, severe punishment for anyone harming elephants is required.

  13. Ann says:

    We need to find out if the baby made it?looks like moms foot was on fire. What sick sick people. The pain of burning is the worse . How could they???

  14. Joni Rae Wirts says:

    Thank you HSI for giving me some comfort that action is taking place in response to this horror. I read about this and broke down crying. It is a relief to know that something is being done. I will continue to donate as much as I can!

  15. Marian Prato says:

    U.S.Horses are shipped to slaughter every day from the United States to Mexico and Canada. The American public does not even know about much of this. Yet we have a bill waiting to be passed in the House and Senate called HR113 and S 1706. Please call your representatives in Congress to request that this bill is passed to stop the horrific brutality of this predatory business of horse slaughter against U.S. horses.

  16. Beth Josolowitz says:

    I’d like to know if you helped track down that mother and baby elephant in India to offer care.
    I hope they’re not suffering from their injuries .
    Is there an update ?

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