Rohingya refugees have been setting up makeshift shelters in Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf and Ukhiya by blocking wild elephants’ path, which may compel elephants to leave their sanctuary and attack the occupants.
Researchers and forest conservation officers said the refugees are settling in areas from Kutupalong camp to Balukhali camp which are designated as wild elephant routes. However, trees are being cut down, which may confuse the elephants and lead them to human settlements.
AHM Raihan Sarkar, associate professor of Chittagong University’s Forest and Environmental Science Institute, said: “If this practice of establishing unplanned settlements on the elephants’ path continues, it will not only increase human-elephant conflicts, but also cause the extinction of elephants in the country within 10-20 years.”
Referring to a recent incident, Raihan said two Rohingya children were killed in an elephant attack in Ukhiya's Modhuchhara area for similar reasons.
“If their paths are blocked, the elephants will be forced to venture into uncharted territory. It also causes a behavioural change,” he added.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducted a study on elephants from 2013 to 2016 and published a report in 2016 titled “Status of Asian Elephants in Bangladesh.”
The report stated there are 12 elephant corridors in Chittagong, of which eight are located in Cox's Bazar area. The report suggested that the elephants’ movements through the corridors are kept uninterrupted.
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The report said around 78 wild elephants live in the conserved forests of Ukhiya and Teknaf areas in dry season. During monsoon, the number reduces to 48 as they get out of the sanctuary in search of food.
Southern Cox's Bazar Divisional Forest Conservation Officer Ali Kabir said: “Teknaf and Ukhiya areas are the elephants’ main habitat. They move from one hill to another in search of food, for which they take fixed routes which are marked with signboards.
“People who are setting up shelters right on the elephants’ paths are at great risk,” he added.
According to the report, there are 268 wild elephants in Bangladesh. In addition, there are 93 migrated elephants, 96 are imprisoned, 82 belong to different owners, 11 are in two safari parks, and three are in Dhaka’s Mirpur Zoo.
According to the UN, 480,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh’s southeastern border region since August 25 military crackdown against Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
This story was first published on Bangla Tribune