14 people were killed in different upazilas of Chittagong in the last six months
With the theme "Sustaining all life on Earth," World Wildlife Day is being observed at a time when the human-elephant conflict, mainly resulting from anthropogenic causes, has become sharper than ever before and thus taking a toll on both human and animal lives in Chittagong region.
According to available data, 14 people were killed in different upazilas of Chittagong in the last six months.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Mihir Kumar Doe, conservator of Forests, Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle, said they were increasing the number of Elephant Response Teams (ERTs) in the conflict areas, imparting training to the volunteers of the ERTs, and raising awareness among the locals to mitigate the human-elephant conflict.
"Besides, we have made a proposal to increase compensation from Tk1 lakh to Tk3 lakh in case of any death following any human-elephant conflict. We have also taken up a plantation project to reduce the conflict," said the conservator.
Replying to a query, the forest official said that construction of infrastructures in the existing corridors of the elephants and human settlement in the elephant habitat are largely responsible for the conflict.
"Habitat loss due to the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, destruction of the forest and the designated elephant corridors and shortage of food are forcing the elephants to venture out, leading to the conflict. Cooperation from everyone is required for mitigating the ever-increasing human-elephant conflict and conserving the critically endangered species," said Abu Naser Md Yasin Newaz, divisional forest officer, Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division, Chittagong.
Expressing grave concern over the recent death incidents of the giant mammals, noted wildlife biologist Dr AHM Raihan Sarker told the Dhaka Tribune that the wild elephants turned violent as they were pushed to the limit.
"The elephant routes have been blocked to make way for refugee camps in the country. That is why the wild elephants are now going into uncharted territory in their desperate search for food and water, triggering the conflicts ever than before," explained Dr Sarker.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, eminent wildlife conservationist Dr Reza Khan said that shortage of food and lack of sufficient foraging ground in the forest were broadly attributable to the recent rise in human-elephant conflict in the country.
"A study shows that elephants naturally browse on at least 50 species of plants, including wild banana, bamboo, grasses and reeds, climbers, lianas, etc. In addition, they eat fruits of over a dozen of trees. Due to deforestation and changing patterns in forestry, there is severe shortage of natural foods for the elephants and many other forest-dwelling animals," said Dr Reza.
"To reduce human-elephant conflict, the government must ensure sufficient food available inside the forest. This should include creating summer-season crops that will keep the elephants inside forests, creating salt and mineral peat far away from human habitation and deep inside forest, and sufficient supply of freshwater during lean months in the form of ponds holding rain water," added the wildlife expert.
According to a report of the Forest Department prepared in 2018, the influx of the displaced Rohingyas caused extensive damage to forest resources of the Cox's Bazar region.
The report revealed that Rohingyas encroached on a total of 5,013 acres of forestland in the region.
As much as 3,517 acres of forestland in total were destroyed including 1,199 acres of man-made forests (chiefly social forestry) and 2,318 acres of natural forests. The report estimated a total of Tk4,112,862,671 worth of damage including Tk2,138,853,414 and Tk1,974,009,257 to the man-made and natural forests, respectively.
According to an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) 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.
The survey revealed that the present condition of the corridors is not suitable for elephant movement due to human interception. If this situation continues, the corridors will be blocked gradually, resulting in the elephants being packetized and losing their genetic viability which would ultimately lead to extinction.
A corridor is a passage used by elephants to go from one habitat patch to another. Elephant corridors are of great importance for the survival of elephant populations to maintain genetic viability of an isolated population.
Elephant routes are the paths that elephants use on a regular basis for foraging and day-to-day movement. When elephant routes get damaged because of human intervention, human-elephant conflict arise within that region.
Asian elephant: A threatened species
According to a publication titled "Status of Asian Elephants in Bangladesh,"elephants belong to two species -- Asian elephant (Elephasmaximus) and African elephant (Loxodontaafricana).
The IUCN Red List of Bangladesh categorized Asian elephant as "critically endangered" as the species of wild animal is now at risk of extinction.
According to a survey conducted by theIUCN from 2013 to 2016, three types of elephants -- resident, migratory and captive -- are found in Bangladesh. The survey said there are 268 resident wild elephants, 93 migratory elephants, and 96 captive elephants in Bangladesh.
Almost a century ago, elephants were a very common sight in the forests of Bangladesh and scientists reported the existence of 500 elephants in the forest of Bangladesh back in 1950s. However, a recent study has put the number of Asian elephants in Bangladesh in between 228 and 327.
Wild elephants help maintain ecological diversity
According to wildlife conservationists, elephants are known as ecosystem's engineers and gardeners since they play a vital role in forest enhancement by disbursing seeds and creating environment for germination.
Elephant dung plays a crucial role in nutrient cycling by providing nutrients to the soil that is ultimately used by the flora. It is also a good source of food for many insects.
The deterrence methods traditionally and frequently used by the villagers for scaring away the raiding elephants by means of bright lights, loud noise (shouting, drumming and bamboo cracking) are time-consuming and can hardly deter the elephants from raiding the crop fields.
According to an IUCN's publication titled "Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Measures: Lessons from Bangladesh," divided the technologies to reduce the risk of human-elephant conflict into three broad categories.
The first category includes cultivation of non-preferred crops by farmers, bio-fencing, solar electric fencing, chili rope, watchtower and setting up early warning system.
The second category is improving elephant habitats through establishing salt lick and plantation for elephants.
The third category is organizing community people living in elephant ranges into small groups which can be termed as “Elephant Response Teams."