A video of a hula party violently driving off a herd of elephants by throwing burning torches, spears and broken crackers has surfaced in South Bengal, sparking outrage and concern among conservation experts.
The video is not only violent, risking the lives of the elephants, but also raises questions about the practice of hula, in the landscape of South Bengal, a hot spot of human-elephant conflict. The villagers, along with the approval of the forest officials, form a ‘hula party’ and use lit torches, drums and loud noise to drive the elephants out of human habitations. Wildlife experts and conservationists allege that the exercise often turns violent.
According to experts, the video is from a place near Medinipur under the Kharagpur forestry division and was filmed earlier this week. In the 31-second video, locals are seen chasing elephants at night alongside National Highway 6 where the vehicles are driving. Lit torches and spears are seen striking a herd of about 15 to 20 elephants.
State Wildlife Watch Chief Debal Roy said the video has come to his attention and an internal investigation has been launched. “Based on the facts, an appropriate response will be initiated. This will not be tolerated,” Roy said.
Diya Banerjee, a wildlife conservationist, said hula hooping is a common practice to scare away elephants, carried out under the patronage of the West Bengal Forest Department. “We all demand an end to this and call for better mitigation methods like those adopted in North Bengal or South India like fencing, crop management, reforestation or signaling systems. Such a practice is tantamount to injuring and killing elephants,” she added.
Ms. Banerjee added that in a High Court order to a petition filed by Prerna Singh Bindra, the high court prohibited throwing hula torches at elephants and condemned the practice.
The landscape of South Bengal is home to between 180 and 200 elephants and, due to the absence of contiguous forests, is a hotspot of human-elephant conflict in the country.