Heartbreaking pictures have emerged of residents of a village in India hurling firebombs at a mother elephant and her young calf after the animals wandered onto their farmland.

The incident, in the village of Bishnupur – a remote settlement in West Bengal – appears to be part of an increasingly common phenomenon in a country where elephants were previously regarded as a cultural icon.

The images, taken by photographer Biplab Hazra, highlight the threat the endangered species face as they try to survive in smaller, more fragmented habitats.

Herds of elephants can cause significant damage to crops, impacting people’s livelihoods. Some farmers use flaming torches to frighten elephants away from inhabited areas.

“This happens because the villagers have to save their crops,” Mr Hazra told Caters news agency.

“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.”

Despite people being determined to drive elephants away from crops, the animals’ dung is a key means of spreading germinating seeds, and they play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of forests and grasslands.

Needless to say, the shocking pictures have angered animal rights activists around the world.

They have called for more to be done to protect elephants from encroaching deforrestation.

Sanctuary Asia – a conservation foundation – said:

“This sort of humiliation of pachyderms is routine, as it is in the other elephant-range states of Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and more.

“India is the world’s stronghold for the Asian elephant and boasts over 70 percent of the global population of the species. But this achievement rings hollow as vital elephant habitats and routes continue to be ravaged, and human-elephant conflict escalates to a fatal degree.”

Images via Caters