Wild elephants are being hindered in their movement because of the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazaar, which have been built on their natural habitat and roaming grounds. The elephants have thus been attacking the camps, killing several refugees.
Behaviorally, elephants follow their set routes and corridors for regular movement. Conflict only occurs when the natural movement of the large animals is disrupted.
Since August 2017, at least 12 people have been killed by wild elephants, a survey of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said. The study was done in partnership with the UNHCR.
According to the study, the hills around Kutupalong refugee camp have turned barren due to massive deforestation, creating a large number of open points through which the elephants could enter the camp.
The extended refugee camp in Kutupalong was set up within the Reserved Forest areas of Cox’s Bazar South Forest Division, a core habitat for the critically endangered Asian elephant in Bangladesh.
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Elephant presence, against the landscape features, around Kutupalong Camp in Cox’s Bazar, based on elephant signs - foot-prints and dung piles. Data from IUCN Bangladesh’s field survey conducted during January 31-February 10 this year and maps provided by UNHCR[/caption]
The refugee camp also lies within an active elephant corridor, which is used by the animals to migrate from one forest to another.
IUCN data said in the last 15 years, at least 93 people were killed in such conflicts in different places of Bangladesh. However, this figure does not include the recent deaths in the Rohingya camps.
In the mid-twentieth century, Bangladesh had over 500 wild elephants, but the number has now decreased to 268.
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According to a recent IUCN survey, there are a total of 12 elephant corridors in the country: five in Cox's Bazar North Forest Division, three in Cox's Bazar South Forest Division, and four in Chittagong South Forest Division Collected
The number of these elephants decreased in Asia in the last two centuries due to fragmentation and destruction of their habitat, caused by expansion of agricultural land and human settlement.
The study, which was conducted between January 21 and February 13, also called for undertaking a set of immediate and long-term measures to mitigate the possible human-elephant conflict.
It warned that the refugees and locals living on the edge of Kutupalong camp or near the corridors are the most vulnerable to elephant encounters and attacks.
During the survey period, the IUCN Bangladesh engaged a trained elephant survey team to find out the presence and population size of the animal. The team was also instructed to indentify the recent human-elephant conflict situations and possible intervention spots in and around the camp in Ukhiya.
The survey team covered approximately 70sqkm of barren hills around the camp and completed a total of 240km of transect walk along 55 tracks in search of elephant footprints and dung piles.
Based on the globally accepted “Dung Count Method” of Asian elephant population estimation, it was found that currently, some 38 elephants use the corridor in the particular forest zones.
The survey also recommended setting up watch-towers at 56 key lookout points around the refugee settlement, and forming 25 Elephant Response Teams (ERTs) to alert the Rohingyas when elephants enter the camps.
The survey results indicate that the trip alarm may not be useful as an elephant deterrent tool due to the excessive human presence around the camp, adjacent hills, and in forest areas.
Other suggested long-term mitigation methods are habitat management and improvement, stopping firewood collection from the adjacent forests and elephant corridor, conducting research on elephant movement and migration patterns through radio collaring.
Md Ali Kabir, divisional forest officer of Cox’s Bazar (South) Division, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The survey has not reached my hands yet. Currently, no Elephant Response Teams has been formed by the government but we are actively considering forming such teams in the region.”
On the other hand, IUCN Country Representative Raquibul Amin told the Dhaka Tribune: “We have already formed 25 Elephant Response Teams (ERTs) to avert human-elephant conflict in and around the refugee camp in Kutupalong.”
He said they will construct 54 bamboo-made watch towers on the edges of the refugee camps.
Raquibul Amin added: “The camps cannot be shifted now but we want to keep the corridors free for the movement of the elephants at any cost so that the conflicts can be avoided.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Bangladesh categorized the Asian elephant as “critically endangered” as the species of wild animal is now at risk of extinction.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since August 2017.