The global elephant population has decreased by 62 percent during the past decade, and extinction is anticipated by the end of the following decade. Every day, an estimated 100 African elephants are slain by poachers. Thousands of elephants have been killed because of the demand for ivory in Asian markets. Bangladesh also in this trend. Human-elephant conflict, deforestation, and food insecurity are among Bangladesh's leading causes of elephant mortality. In Bangladesh, elephants are also on the verge of extinction due to forest area invasion, commercialization, and the incompetence of the forest department. According to the data, approximately 150 elephants perished in the country over the past 25 years, from 1992 to 2021. Only 34 elephants killed in 2021.
Elephants are the world's largest and most powerful land creatures, but they are virtually nonexistent. Its condition is presently especially precarious in Bangladesh and other nations with less forest land and population. Elephants continue to perish for a variety of reasons, including habitat degradation and escalating human conflicts. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that there are between 300 and 350 elephants in the country, including the occasional elephant from India. The agency estimates that there are only 120 to 125 elephants inhabiting the Sherpur forest region. According to a survey conducted in 2004, there were 227 elephants in the Chittagong region. It is feared that the Asian species of elephants would become extinct in Bangladesh's forested areas as a result of ongoing poaching and odd deaths. Since 1986, this species has been on the IUCN Red List.
The country usually has two wild elephant ranges: the Garo Hills bordering Sherpur-Jamalpur-Mymensingh and the greater Chittagong region. The first zone is primarily populated by'migratory' Indian elephants. During the season of fruits such as paddy and jackfruit, the elephants migrate to the area of Bangladesh in search of food. In the past year, at least 35 elephants have been killed in the Greater Chittagong region. In contrast, eight of the eighteen elephants who perished in the Sherpur region between 2014 and 2021 were electrocuted, three died from gunshot wounds. Other reasons of elephant mortality include disease, age-related conditions, food poisoning, and physical asult.
The elephant population in Bangladesh is diminishing. Due to human settlement and numerous operations in forest areas, a great number of elephant pathways have been closed. When there is an obstruction in the way of elephants, there is conflict with humans. They are also targeting communities because of a lack of food. If there is an obstruction, they become enraged and assault people. Greater Chittagong contained eleven elephant corridors. The majority are practically closed. In addition to forest encroachment, the expanding cultivation of crops such as rice near to forests can be highlighted as a hazard to elephants. Due to unauthorised settlements in hills and forests, elephant habitat is being lost. Interestingly, the majority of elephant deaths happened during the harvest season, from July to October. Cox's Bazar's Ukhia and Teknaf forest regions were designated as restricted forests in 1931. The refuge is renowned for housing the endangered Asian elephant species. The Rohingyas, however, have settled in these regions by removing trees and hills. Consequently, wild elephants are threatened. Along the Ukhia Kutupalong Regional Road, there is a sign that reads in, " Wild elephant Corridor." The world's largest refugee camp was constructed by felling trees just behind the elephant movement Corridor . This has led to indiscriminate deforestation, land alteration, biodiversity loss, and an increase in human-animal conflict. Elephants, as enormous and strong animals, are retaliating against people for their degradation of nature. In addition to elephants, the biodiversity of other wild creatures, mammals, and birds is severely threatened.
Elephant cruelty is becoming more frequent in the country. When elephants invaded the community in the past, people tried to scare them away by setting off firecrackers, lighting fires, or banging cans, but electric traps have uses widely over time. The animal accidentally touches the electrified fence and dies. Animals are also killed by poachers for their body parts, particularly their teeth. In order to protect elephants, the government created the "Bangladesh Elephant Conservation Action Plan (BECAP)" in 2018. The plan included six objectives, including preventing poaching and human-elephant conflict as well as conducting research to protect elephant habitat. But there has been no apparent precedence for its adoption messure. A proposal to establish a wild elephant sanctuary at Sherpur was brought to the Cabinet Division by the then-Deputy Commissioner in 2014. In this aspect, there is also no sign of improvement.
The Bangladesh Nature Conservation Alliance (BNCA), a coordinated effort of 33 environmental organizations, recently conducted a shadowy investigation into elephant deaths. BNCA conducted a shadow investigation in Coxsabazar and found that more than half of the 13,065 acres of forest land in the Panerchhara and Dhwapalong ranges of the Coxsbazar South Forest Division has been illegally encroached upon. However, the forest department mentions the amount of forest land encroachment at 1202 acres. On top of this, about 40 elephants are trapped in an area of approximately 100 acres due to the destruction of elephant movement paths (corridors) and habitats due to various development activities on forest land by public and private organizations. Illegal settlements in the forest land, water barges, farms, enclosures, electricity connections, and other activities have threatened elephants and other wildlife. Due to the acute shortage of safe shelter, food, and water for elephants, these elephants have become helpless and are attacking people's homes and farms almost daily. Due to this, the elephant-human conflict is increasing day by day in that area, because of which people get angry and get involved in incidents like killing elephants. Only 16 manpower is handling various activities, including protection of forest land of Dhwapalang and Panerchara range, regular patrolling, creation of afforestation, and official day-to-day performance, which is not enough. Because of this, there is a huge lack of capacity in the protection of elephants and other wildlife of the government department. Apart from this, there are no remuneration system for Elephant Response Team (ERT) members. Besides, an elephant was electrocuted to death on November 15, 2020, in Tulabagan forest beat area of Panerchhara range next to the Dhwapalong range. The Forest Department registered a case under the Wildlife (Preservation and Security) Act at Ramu police station, accusing three people of the incident. But there was no progress in it. Clear negligence of the forest department is evident. On the other hand, shadow investigation in Sherpur's Sreevardi and Jhenaigati areas shows that a large number of people are living illegally in the forest land there. A hostile attitude has also been noticed among the illegal residents.
'Bangladesh Nature Conservation Alliance (BNCA)' has put forward 11-point recommendations to solve the problem in the light of shadow investigation. Elephants are currently an endangered species in Bangladesh. Emphasis should be placed on its habitat and surroundings. Along with that, emphasis should also be placed on elephant food. In Cox's Bazar, the elephants are killed within the elephant corridor. Marine drive, cantonment and Rohingya camps are causing obstacles in the movement of elephants. It is necessary to stop encroachment and pollution for the sake of our survival, for this political will is necessary as well as to ensure proper responsibilities of those responsible for protecting forests and wildlife.
Professor Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder was Dean, Faculty of Science, Chairman, Department of Environmental Science, Stamford University Bangladesh. Founder and Chairman, Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPA). Joint Secretary, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA).
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