Bhaskar sent me this picture today and I opened it during break at the Black Cat Picture Show, where we are showing "Elephants in the Coffee."
It is an extremely disturbing photo of elephants running from fire. I don't know yet where the photo came from, and Bhaskar is working to find out more even as I write this.
But it illustrates the changing attitude toward elephants that troubles me. As we note in our documentary, the elephant was once a god in India, but increasingly people call it a menace. Farmers try to drive elephants from their fields. People try to drive elephants from their streets and their villages.
But when one person drives off an elephant, the elephant conflict doesn't end -- it merely moves. This is problem India faces in every state in which elephants exist.
As Ananda Banerjee writes in "Crocodile tears for the elephant," "A majority of elephants, in fact, are now found outside protected areas such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries." Elephants cannot be fenced inside some national park. If the world is to have Asian elephants, man must learn to co-exist with these incredible creatures.
In this article, there is also disturbing evidence that elephant populations are again declining. The most recent elephant census says India has only 27,000 elephants, down from 30,000 in 2012. The government claims that the number does not reflect a true reduction in population and that, instead, it reflects better methods of counting.
However, this should be warning. As Bannerjee writes, "There are very few research studies on the ecology and social dimension of human-elephant (or other wildlife) relationships in areas outside forests."
The world needs to study and address issues of human-elephant interaction outside the national forests because that is now where most elephants live. We cannot rely on firecrackers to solve this issue.