Local residents spotted the elephant dead at the district's Borohatiya union under Lohagara upazila
In a heartbreaking incident, a male Asian elephant -- a critically endangered species -- which was electrocuted and shot, succumbed to his injuries early on Monday in Chittagong.
Local residents spotted the elephant dead at the district's Borohatiya union under Lohagara upazila.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Lohagara Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Ahsan Habib said that an autopsy had been performed on the elephant on Monday to determine the exact cause of death.
“The report is yet to reach us. We suspect that the elephant died an unnatural death,” added the UNO.
Dulahazra Safari Park Veterinary Surgeon Dr Mostafizur Rahman, who performed the autopsy on the elephant, said: "The 35-year old male Asian elephant was shot in the head.
"The elephant got electrocuted which means he came into contact with a live wire or got stuck in an electric fence," he added.
However, despite repeated attempts, Chittagong Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division) Abu Naser Md Yasin Newaz, could not be reached over phone for his comments over the incident.
It is to be noted that it is illegal and a non-bailable offence to place electric wires and fences to drive away wild animals.
Reports suggest that farmers in Chittagong secure illegal power connections from Palli Bidyut Samity (PBS) and erect electric fences around their fields for protection from rampaging wild elephants.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, eminent wildlife biologist Dr AHM Raihan Sarker, said: “It is very natural that the farmers will go to any length to protect their crop fields from the raiding wild animals.
"However, it is the responsibility of the forest officials to keep a strict vigil so that none can cause any harm to the wild animals.”
Food shortage responsible for elephant crop raiding
According to an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publication, entitled “Status of Asian Elephants in Bangladesh,” lack of available food in the forests compels wild elephants to enter crop fields and people’s households.
When elephants invade crops and settlements, humans defend their property by driving them away with fire, guns and bombs. As a result, both elephants and people are killed and injured in such conflicts, added the report.
According to the wildlife biologists, elephants move into human settlements only after dark.
During the crop season, adult male elephants usually move close to the forest-village boundary in the evening and cross over to the crop fields after sunset.
Once the elephants enter cultivation, their next goal is to look for a suitable crop field for foraging.
Dr AHM Raihan Sarker said: "Elephants consume 1.5% of their body weight every day and usually the quantity of fodder ranges from 135 kg to 300 kg for adult elephants. Wild elephants invade crop fields as the nutritional value of paddy is high and an abundant source of food is found at one place."
Farmers consider elephants as 'pests'
According to a survey conducted by Dr AHM Raihan Sarker, farmers living close to elephant habitats consider the wild animals as "agricultural pests" -- an invader that damages properties and threatens human life.
The survey on the attitude of farmers towards wild elephants revealed that forest villagers are somewhat tolerant of damage caused by other wildlife species but feel the opposite when it comes to wild elephants.
The survey found that wild boars, rodents and porcupines raid crop fields regularly, whereas wild elephants invade crop fields only from June to September and October to December.
The damage caused by the raiding elephants is negligible compared to the damage wrought by other wildlife species.
However, the reaction of the farmers towards wild elephants is far out of proportion, said Dr AHM Raihan Sarker. He added, "This is because crop raiding by wild animals such as wild boars, rodents and porcupines is manageable with minimum effort."
Methods used to deter wild elephants
The deterrent methods traditionally and frequently used by the villagers for scaring away raiding elephants such as showing bright lights, making loud noises (shouting, drumming and bamboo cracking) are time consuming and hardly serves the cause.
An IUCN publication, entitled “Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Measures: Lessons from Bangladesh,” divided the methods to mitigate human-elephant conflicts into three broad categories.
The first category mentions the cultivation of non-preferred crops by forest farmers, bio-fencing, solar electric fencing, chili ropes, watch towers and setting up of early warning systems.
The second category talks about the improvement of elephant habitats through the establishment of salt licks and tree plantation.
The third category suggests organizing community people living in elephant ranges into small groups which can act as "Elephant Response Teams."