India’s obsession with taking impressive selfies isn’t just restricted to climbing atop trains or braving water bodies and steep cliffs even if it means running the risk of literally dying for the gram. Selfies featuring animals are also a huge hit with people. However, with India accounting for the highest number of recorded selfie-related deaths in the world, many of these animal selfies pursuits don’t really end well.
On February 28, a 21-year-old man was trampled to death by an elephant while he tried to take a selfie with it in the Indian state of Chattisgarh. Identified as Manohar Patel, the deceased, along with his three friends, was trying to get the elephant to strike a pose in the Gudhyari village under Sarangarh forest range, according to Pranay Mishra, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO).
The elephant had wandered into the residential area from the nearby forest, inviting a huge crowd of locals who looked on as the officials tried to chase it away. Patel and friends saw the crowd as an opportunity to approach the elephant and take pictures with it.
“The elephant suddenly charged towards them, following which three of them managed to escape from the spot while the jumbo caught hold of Patel and trampled him to death,” Mishra told PTI.
Following the unfortunate incident, forest officials and police personnel reached the spot and the body was taken for post-mortem. The family of the deceased was given an instant relief amount of Rs 25,000 (approximately $340).
According to forest officials, the same elephant had been involved in the death of an elderly woman in a nearby village in the area a couple of days back, when it had entered Sarangarh area from Saraipali forest of a neighbouring district along with its calf. Having been separated from its calf on February 28, it was especially disturbed.
They also added that forest personnel were in the process of reuniting the two and trying to ensure safe passage into the deep forest when the incident happened. However, this is only the latest in the increasing cases of human-elephant conflict in the area covered by dense forests. Deforestation and illegal felling of trees due to industrialisation and mining might be to blame for the distortion in the movement patterns of the elephants, who are using these smaller forest patches to move to larger areas.
In 2017, a 27-year-old man had also lost his life while trying to take a selfie with an elephant after illegally entering Bannerghatta Biological Park in the southern city of Bengaluru. He was allegedly drunk when the elephant attacked him.
Another inebriated man was trampled to death in 2018 while in pursuit of a selfie with an elephant separated from its herd in the state of Odisha, where wild elephant selfies have emerged as a rather bizarre cause of death. Often joining large crowds as they try to take these pictures, people have either died or suffered severe injuries. The human-elephant conflict in the region has been exacerbated as the lack of food in forests drives elephants to nearby cities and villages, where people get excited to get selfies that might fetch them social media clout, or just some thrill, irritating the animals with their camera flash or by getting too close for comfort.
With the rise of social media, people have been behaving in ways they wouldn’t if it wasn’t for the prospect of online validation. “If you’re already focused on posting that selfie on social media, you’re not focused on what’s right in front of you, which is a dangerous wild animal,” Erin Vogel, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, told National Geographic. With wild animal selfies becoming commonplace, people have also stopped associating these animals with danger, which can make them go to great heights for such pictures, without bearing the implications in mind.
To caution locals against such incidents, the forest department of Assam had to issue an advisory asking them not to attempt selfies with the wild animals that wandered into areas inhabited by humans during the Covid-19 lockdown.
These selfie deaths involving animals form part of a larger trend of selfie-related deaths in the country. From 2011-2017, India accounted for nearly half of the 259 reported fatalities, according to a study by the US National Library of Medicine.
Yet, an NGO in West Bengal came up with a “Selfie with a Cow” or a “Cowfie” contest, wherein they encouraged social media users to take a selfie with a cow and post it online in order to promote cow protection and create awareness against cow slaughter.
Even as Indians emerge as the leaders in selfie deaths, animals around the world have also lost their lives to humans’ selfie obsession. In 2017, a baby dolphin beached on the coast of Spain died after tourists picked it up and passed it around to take selfies. In 2016, two peacocks also died at a Chinese zoo after visitors picked them up and handled them roughly while posing for pictures, even violently plucking their feathers to keep as souvenirs.
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