A baby elephant on fire flees with its mother across a road from a surrounding mob – this is the heart-wrenching image that won Biplab Hazra the Sanctuary Nature Foundation’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award on Sunday. The brick kiln owner captured the moment in the Bankura district of West Bengal, and the photograph was selected from close to 5,000 entries that the Foundation reportedly received from across Asia and juried by a renowned group of wildlife and conservation photogrpahers such as the Editor of Sanctuary Asia Bittu Sahgal and Steve Winter, photographer at National Geographic.
The now-controversial image has gotten mixed reactions across social media – “why didn’t the photographer help the baby elephant?” “Why didn’t he intervene and put out the fire?” The age-old debate of ethics of photojournalism and human intervention flooded comments sections on various platforms; people even questioning how such atrocities can be committed upon an elephant in a country that reveres and worships Lord Ganesha.
Speaking to Scroll.in the Sanctuary Nature Foundation expressed Hazra’s interest in wildlife photography as well as his desire to “bring awareness in how people look at nature and conservation.” In the age of overpopulation and where human encroachment is displacing animals from their habitat, such a clash has become inevitable and in a fight for survival, humanity is often lost.
A few of the other winners included ‘Valparai Vagrant’ photographed by Sitara A Karthikeyan that captures a monkey seeking shelter atop a car tire (Young Category – Nature in Urbania). The Conservation Photography category went to ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ by Anand Bora that shows villagers coming together to rescue a leopard trapped in a well for over 30 hours. Another striking image is ‘Last Post of Call’ by Vishruth Cavale – Young Category - Conservation and Young Photographer of the Year – showing a lifeless shark in stored in a plastic crate contrasting the surrounding (living, human) crowd.
These images shed light on the state of India’s wildlife society’s relationship with nature today – moments of compassion, the cycle of life and the continuing violence humans inflict upon our natural habitat and its inhabitants.
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