August 15, 2015, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala: The elephant turned his head around as soon as the mobile phone rang. Incredulously, the young man ignored the loud caller tune and continued taking pictures of the glaring pachyderm. His wife also turned her attention and phone towards the elephant to nonchalantly shoot a quick succession of pictures using her camera flash. The driver started the jeep and could be heard cursing the couple as he reversed and swiftly drove away.
Ajayan, the upset jeep driver, told me later that he had informed the young honeymooning couple very clearly before the trip that “they are not allowed to use camera flash, that phones must be on silent, they should not wear bright colours and if they did not follow rules I could not guarantee their safety. But the two of them were ‘hopeless’ and broke every rule. I had to leave in a hurry not because the elephant had shown any signs of discomfort or displeasure, but because I know even elephants have limits to their patience.”
On January 20, 2015, not very far from here, allegedly provoked by a camera flash, an elephant lost his patience and killed Bhupendra (52) and Jagriti Ravel (50) in the Gavi forest of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The forest guide accompanying them was forced to abandon the couple after they failed to heed his warning to stop taking pictures and run. This is not an isolated incident but typical of the rising animal-tourist conflict unfolding in our parks. (See box: ‘The Last Selfie’)
-Continue reading the covers story in Sanctuary Asia magazine.