The recent incident of an elephant trampling people to death speaks volume about how habitat loss has pushed wild elephants into a desperate situation. Some 175 people died in elephant attacks in the last nine years
The conflict between humans and elephants is getting worse as the endangered animal's habitats are being decimated due to increased human invasions. Construction of roads and railways, new settlements on agricultural lands, and the construction of brick fields which is part and parcel of the development spree are hampering elephants' movement along their routes and corridors.
On Sunday, three people were trampled to death and four were injured at Kadurkhil village of Baolkahli in Chattogram when a herd of wild elephants attacked them.
This has brought the death toll by elephant attacks to 175 in the last nine years. Additionally, elephants have damaged properties of 596 people during the same period. According to the Bangladesh Forest Department, a total of 88 wild elephants got killed from 2001 to October 2019.
Raquibul Amin, the country representative of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said, "The area where the Sunday incident occurred, is not far from Lalutia-Baraduara elephant corridor. We have gathered that there is ripe paddy in the fields surrounding the area. Elephants are known for their fondness for ripe paddies."
Chittagong Divisional Forest Officer Abu Naser Mohammad Yasin Newaz of the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department said, "A herd of elephant on Saturday came into the locality from the forest. A wildlife team tried to return the herd of elephants to the forest but the effort went in vain as a huge group of enthusiastic people thronged centring the elephants. At early morning, the elephants attacked on the villagers which left three dead."
"Nowadays, herds of elephants are coming to the locality in search of food as their habitats are getting decimated," said Abu Naser.
The elephant is a species that are need of conservation in Bangladesh. In the IUCN Red List, it is marked as a threatened species. As per a survey conducted by the IUCN during 2013-2016, three types of elephants are found in Bangladesh – resident, captive, and migratory. The survey also found 268 resident wild elephants, 93 migratory elephants, and 96 captive elephants in Bangladesh.
Raquibul Amin from IUCN explained, "From Kaptai Lake to Teknaf, we have a sprawling distribution of elephants who reside in forest habitats connected by 12 corridors. Elephants move from one habitat to the other through these corridors. Now that the corridors are not protected properly and have overrun with human activities, elephants and people often come into contact."
Amin raises a concern, "There is a lack of awareness even in government bodies. The Teknaf Television Centre is built inside one of the corridors."
Mihir Kumar, a wildlife conservator at the Forest Department told The Business Standard, "The elephants are in grave risk due to their loss of habitat because of the construction of roads, highways, railways, settlement of agricultural lands, and brick fields near the elephant's routes and corridors."
He also said that the fragmentation of forest, food scarcity, and encroachment forced the elephants to come into the locality in search of food and water – which led to human-elephant conflicts resulting in fatalities.
"We are trying to address these issues. There is a provision of giving compensation to the people if the wild elephants destroy croplands. We are asking people not to harm the wild elephants," Mihir Kumar added.
The Forest Department has paid a total of Tk3,17,86,000 in compensation to the victims and their families in the last nine years.
Abu Naser brought a new side to the human-elephant conflict – it has increased in Bangladesh after the Rohingya refugee influx in 2017. "Over 5,000 acres reserved forest land was destroyed as around one million Rohingya refugees took shelter and built tents, blocking the Asian Elephant route.
The construction of the Rohingya camps has escalated the risk of elephant-human conflicts in the Cox's Bazar region as the camps are destroying forests and the elephants' passages."
At least 15 people were killed in the Rohingya refugee settlement in the last two years as the settlements were built on Asian Elephant corridor.
A survey by the IUCN, covering a hilly area of 70 square kilometres in Cox's Bazar, revealed frequent elephant movements around the refugee settlement area.
As per the elephant census conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2016, there were 63 wild elephants found in the south forest division of Cox's Bazar while another 205 were spotted in the country's other regions – including Bandarban, Sherpur and Mymensingh.
Raquibul Amin observed, "We need to have an elephant habitat landscape management plan to protect both elephants and human beings alike. We need more elephant response teams who will ensure safe passage of elephants back to the forests once they trespass human habitats. Solar-powered electric fencing is very effective in keeping the elephants away from farmlands. Furthermore, we have to make people aware and train them to coexist and share the resources of nature."