Deforestation in India has led to animals being forced to cross paths with humans more often, and in many cases, these encounters can be ugly, and sometimes even deadly for the elephants.
In one Bishnupur village in India, elephants have begun wandering through the community and the residents became hostile. Elephants can easily damage property or even hurt people in small villages like this, so people aren’t really thinking about the wellbeing of the animal. Elephants were estimated to have caused millions of dollars of property damage to large agricultural operations, and they are often killed in retaliation.
In some photos, residents of the village can be seen tossing firebombs at a mother elephant and her calf to keep them wandering through their crops, causing the panicked animals to flee across the road.
These photos were captured by photographer Biplab Hazra, who is hoping to raise awareness about the struggles that elephants are facing amidst ongoing deforestation.
“This happens because the villagers have to save their crops. There are many elephant corridors in human habitations. I’m trying to show this and spread my photos to increase public awareness on the matter,” Hazra says.
According to government data, 14,000sq km of forests were cleared to accommodate 23,716 industrial projects across India over the last 30 years. Deforestation in the region is mainly caused by environmental degradation by farmers, ranches, loggers, and plantation corporations. In 2009, India ranked 10th worldwide in the amount of forest loss, where world annual deforestation is estimated at 13.7 million hectares each year.
This deforestation pushes many animals from their homes and into danger.
Indian elephants may spend up to 19 hours a day feeding and they can produce about 220 pounds of dung per day while wandering over an area that can cover up to 125 square miles. This helps to disperse germinating seeds, so even though they can sometimes be destructive to villages, humans still like to keep them around. They feed mainly on grasses, but large amounts of tree bark, roots, leaves and small stems are also eaten. Cultivated crops such as bananas, rice and sugarcane are favored foods as well. Since they need to drink at least once a day, these elephants are always close to a source of fresh water.
Elephants are not only a cultural icon in India and throughout Asia, but they also help to keep the forest and grassland habitats healthy.
According to the 2017 census of elephants in India, the country is home to 27,312 elephants, which accounts for 55% of the total world elephant population. The elephant population in Assam has increased from 5,246 in 2002 to 5,719 in 2017, but now also faces serious challenges due to deforestation.
These animals were once much more common throughout Africa and Asia, but elephants have sadly declined significantly during the 20th century, largely due to the illegal ivory trade. Even though some populations are now stable and growing in some select areas, poaching, habitat destruction and conflicts with humans like those depicted in these photos continue to threaten the species, and many others.
Photos: Healthy Food House