Poachers on the prowl
It's time the forest department and law enforcement agencies work together to protect the endangered Asian elephants.
Amid such circumstances, several smuggling syndicates are allegedly hunting the endangered mammals in Chattogram region and the hill tracts, according to law enforcement agencies.
The law enforcers came up with the information after arresting five persons in two separate incidents along with three elephant ivories in Chattogram recently.
Investigators said the tusks were being smuggled from Banshkhali and CHT respectively while the smugglers poached the elephants in deep jungle.
Seeing the seized items, investigators and wildlife crime control experts said the tusks and part of the elephant jowl (lower teeth) cannot be collected without killing the mammal.
They also said smugglers allegedly killed the elephants by placing electric fences in their path or shooting them.
Poachers are possibly hunting the mammals and later cutting off their tusks for smuggling using the pretext of human-elephant conflict, they said.
Since 2001, a total of 120 elephants have died for various reasons, including direct shootings, shows data of Wildlife and Nature Conservation Department of Chattogram Circle.
At least 12 elephants have been killed in shootings by poachers in the last five years -- all in the forests under Cox's Bazar and Chattogram (South).
On August 7, Rapid Action Battalion (Rab-7) arrested three persons with a piece of elephant's tusk (jowl's part) in port city's Mohora area.
Among the arrestees, two hail from Manikchhari of Khagrachari and another from Baghaichhari of Rangamati.
Apart from that, members of the Detective Branch (DB) of Chattogram Metropolitan Police in a drive arrested two persons with two tusks in Karnaphuli area on May 25.
Both the arrestees hail from Banshkhali upazila's Puichari union.
According to the Rab first information report (FIR), during primary interrogation, the three accused said they collected the tusk from the hill tracts. Rab also said they were trying to smuggle the jowl to a neighbouring country.
While investigating the Karnaphuli incident, DB found that the tusks were being smuggled from the hilly area of Banshkhali where wild elephants roam.
Banshkhali is the upazila where several human-elephant conflicts were reported in the last few years and several people died in elephant attacks. Apart from that, wild elephant herds sometimes were also attacked by locals when the mammals came to their locality in search of food, said local sources and media reports.
Talking to The Daily Star, Nobel Chakma, additional deputy commissioner (ADC-DB) of Port Zone, said, "In remand, the two accused told police that they were scheduled to hand over the tusks to a party for Tk 35,000."
"They told investigators that the 24-inch long tusks were collected from the hilly areas of Banshkhali. They said they got those from a local. A wild elephant was poached via the electric fences," he added.
The ADC said they have sent a team to Banskhali to investigate. "However, the IO got infected with coronavirus… that's why it got stalled for a while."
"We are continuing with our investigation and trying to find out the network of black market, destination of the smuggled items and those involved with it," he added.
According to the International Union of Conservations of Nature (IUCN), wild elephants are seen in Chunati of Lohagara-Satkania, Banshkhali-Rangunia, Bandar and Rangamati areas, where there are several elephant corridors.
Apart from that, several corridors were also spotted in Cox's Bazar-Teknaf forest, which were hampered by the establishment of Rohingya camps.
Elephant corridors are strips of land that the large animals use to move from one habitat patch to another.
According to the 2016 elephant census conducted by the IUCN, 63 wild elephants were found in the southern forest division of Cox's Bazar while another 205 were spotted in the country's other regions, including Bandarban, Sherpur and Mymensingh.
Seeking anonymity, a police official said, "We found that poachers reportedly instigate locals including Rohingya to intercept the elephants, and later hunt them."
"We are not sure about the techniques they use but are trying to identify the whole process focusing on the Banshkhali incident," he added.
Last year, three Asian elephants had died in the gap of two months at the Kalipur range office of Banshkhali, which falls under the jurisdiction of Chattogram Divisional Forest Office (South).
Taking those into account, the investigators said poachers may be active in the regions, dodging the eyes of the authorities concerned.
"The extent of elephant deaths we see each year is really alarming," eminent wildlife biologist Monirul H Khan told The Daily Star, calling for immediate action.
Experts also recommended strict measures against poaching, protecting elephant habitats, taking steps to reduce human-elephant conflicts and researching on proper conservation of elephants.
As per the law, elephant killing is a non-bailable offence and offenders are jailed for a minimum of one year and up to a maximum of seven years. Besides, a fine of Tk 1 lakh at the lowest and Tk 10 lakh maximum is imposed for the offence.
The forest officials can file a case if any wildlife is killed within their jurisdiction in consultation with the warden of the wildlife divisional forest office.
Contacted, Abu Naser Md Neyaz Yeasin, immediate past divisional forest officer (wildlife and nature conservation) of Chattogram, said, "As far I recall, there is no previous record of seizing elephant tusks. It's a very sensitive issue and it must be investigated extensively."
"It's time the forest department and law enforcement agencies work together to protect the endangered Asian elephants," he said.