Passage for elephants blocked

Makeshift camps set up for Rohingyas get in the way
animal movement in Cox’s Bazar
A Rohingya settlement in Kutupalong area of Ukhia. A sign calling for caution as it is a wild elephants' corridor. Photo: Pinaki Roy

The natural corridors for around 50 wild elephants in Ukhia's reserve forest area have been blocked by temporary camps set up for the helpless Rohingya refugees.

Experts say the animals, which come from Bandarban's Naikhyangchhari usually during the winter, might face the threat of extinction if the situation does not change.

They say many parts of the 30,000 acres of forest land in Ukhia have already been razed to the ground and the Rohingya settlement could be the final nail in the coffin for the large mammals.

Elephants, which move in groups, go on seasonal migrations in search of food, water, minerals, and mates.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, biodiversity expert Anisuzzaman, chief adviser of Isabella Foundation, said the around 50 elephants, which were already in trouble due to the construction of Cox's Bazar-Teknaf highway, could face the threat of extinction if their migratory routes are kept blocked.

He said once the corridors are closed, the animals would start mating within the group, resulting in weaker breeds. In the long run, the elephants might not survive, he added.

Anisuzzaman also said such closure of the corridors could trigger human-elephant conflicts in the area, leading to deaths on both sides.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the conflict is a result of habitat loss and fragmentation. When elephants and humans interact, there is a conflict from elephant raids, leading to injuries and deaths of humans. Also, elephants are killed by humans for reasons other than ivory collection, it says.

A forest official said two Rohingyas died after being trampled by elephants last week.

Again, in the face of the conflict, elephants often stop using their usual migratory routes and in many cases, they start mating within their group, say experts.

Over 429,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, after violence broke out in their homeland in Mynanmar's Rakhine on August 25.

Failing to get place in the registered camps, many of the refugees had to set up camps by the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf highway. Unfortunately, the camps blocked the elephant corridors in Ukhia.

In a month or so, forest officials said, over 4,500 acres of the reserve forest area in Ukhia had been completely destroyed in addition to the damages caused earlier.

Again, the government has recently allocated 2,000 acres of reserve forest land in Ukhia Ghat Mouja area for setting up a new camp for the Rohingyas. 

Contacted, Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md Ali Hossain said the government had no other option but to allocate the reserve forest land for the refugees. He said the administration had no khas land in its possession.

The inter-sector coordination group, a consortium of foreign donors, was working to build the camp, said forest officials.

Visiting the Ukhia Ghat Mouja, these correspondents saw that around one fifth of the 30,000 acres of land already had many new and old Rohingya settlements on it.

Similar camps were seen in Shilkhali and Whykang Moujas in Teknaf, and in private rubber plantation area in Naikhyangchhari of Bandarban.

A huge area of the reserve forest has been razed to the ground. Old clothes, plastic bottles, polythene bags remain scattered at places.

The district administration sources said many of the 14 new camps were blocking the elephant corridors, including those in Ukhia.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, several civil society members said the government should act faster to ensure that the natural elephant corridors are freed. They said it would help the animals migrate without any trouble.