World Elephant Day today: Threats intensified
Wild elephants face serious threats to their survival in the country, thanks to frequent killings of the giant mammal and shrinking of their habitat in the absence of concrete protective measures by the government.
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).
To conserve the fast-depleting elephant population, the government formulated a 10-year "Bangladesh Elephant Conservation Action Plan (BECAP)" in 2018, outlining six objectives.
Sadly, none of the objectives of BECAP, prepared by the Forest Department, have been implemented yet, intensifying the threats to elephants.
The objectives include reducing human-elephant conflict and poaching, protecting their habitats, and conducting research and improving knowledge in elephant conservation.
According to the 2016 elephant census conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there were 248 Asian elephants living in Cox's Bazar, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and in other regions including Sherpur. The survey covered 12 identified corridors through which the herd of elephants move from one forest to another in search of food.
The Asian elephant, the species found in Bangladesh, has been included as endangered on the IUCN Red List, as apart from poaching, construction of settlements in forests and hills seriously threaten their existence.
"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.
According to Forest Department data, the country lost 90 elephants by direct killing between 1995 and 2016.
Despite the frequent killings, the Forest Department could not bring any offenders to book since the government formulated the Wildlife Conservation Act-2012.
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.
In the last three years, three out of the 12 recognised corridors in Cox's Bazar were blocked due to large structures and the Rohingya camps.
Another corridor -- Chunati-Fasiakhali-Medakocchopia -- will be jeopardised due to the under-construction railway lines linking Dohazari of Chattogram to Ghumdum in Cox's Bazar, apprehends forest department officials.
The rest of the corridors are threatened by encroachment, setting up of brick kilns, gardening, and fish farming inside reserve forests.
Monirul, also a professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said, "We must regenerate the habitats of elephants. The corridors must be secured for their risk-free movement.
"We have to apply the conservation law to ensure exemplary punishment of the offenders. We also have to raise awareness among mass people."
Raquibul Amin, country director of IUCN, said elephants will not get safe habitation and their population will not be protected until the government includes it in the national priority list.
"Out of the 12 corridors, three have already been blocked. There are corridors which fall on private land. So, we need to make sure the elephants are safe when they move through private land," he said.
Md Amir Hosain Chowdhury, chief conservator of forest, said they were conducting a feasibility study to identify more corridors being used by elephants.
"The elephant response teams formed under the BECAP worked well in the beginning but due to the fund crisis, we could not incentivise them. I have directed forest officials concerned to find ways to ensure coordination," he told this newspaper.
Amir said they have taken up a project to mitigate human-elephant conflict by reinstating the corridors.
"Some of the corridors are on private land. So, we will write to the government to acquire the private land so that elephant movements are secured."
He added, "The project will cover three regions. If the ministry approves the project, we will be able to implement many of the action plans outlined in BECAP."