Around 28 elephants killed in last 20 months alone; most perpetrators remain unidentified
Killing of Asian elephants in Bangladesh has seen an increase in recent times, making it the biggest existential threat for the largest living land mammal in Asia.
According to a study by the Forest Department and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 268 Asian elephants living in the country’s forests. Two-thirds of them live in Cox's Bazar and the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
A total of 90 elephants were killed in Bangladesh between 2001 and 2017. Meanwhile, around 28 elephants were brutally killed in just 20 months from January 2020 to August 2021. Twenty-three of them were killed in Cox’s Bazar alone.
“The alarming issue is that the rate of elephant killing is high compared to any period in the past. Moreover, most culprits are still unidentified,” said Raquibul Amin, country representative of IUCN Bangladesh.
The Asian elephant might become extinct if the killings continued, he forewarned.
Survival at risk
The Forest Department attributes electrocution, ageing, and slipping and falling from hills to most Asian elephant deaths in Bangladesh.
But there are other brutal causes of elephant deaths as well. On November 6 last year, a baby elephant was shot dead in Khutakhali forest in Chakaria. Ten days later, a 30-year-old female elephant was killed in a similar manner in Jowarianala forest of Ramu.
On August 31, 2021, some miscreants in Ramu upazila electrocuted an Asian elephant and later chopped up the injured mammal into pieces and tried to bury it in the mud.
“Such brutality is very alarming for the survival of the Asian elephant. The authorities concerned should take proper measures against the miscreants as [elephants] being shot to death raises security concerns as well,” said Raquibul Amin.
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“We always hear that the movement of wild elephants creates anxiety among locals from fear of being attacked by them. Elephants are regularly killed by electrocution and gunshots on the pretext of protecting crops. However, upon investigating the incidents we found that most such croplands or private resources were inside forest zones,” said Divisional Forest Officer Md Sarwar Alam.
“Elephants do not usually attack unless they are disturbed by people,” he added.
It was a crime to kill elephants on the pretext of saving crops, the Forest Department official told Dhaka Tribune. “We compensate people if an elephant destroys their house or crops grown on private land,” he added.
Meanwhile, ASM Jahir Uddin Akon, director of the Wildlife Crime Control Unit of the Forest Department, affirmed that his agency would take stern action against anyone involved in elephant killings from now on.
“We recently ran a campaign in various regions of the country, including Cox’s Bazar, to raise awareness against killing elephants,” he said.
“People will hopefully be mindful now, because otherwise they will be punished,” Akon warned.
Elephants bearing cost of development
According to the Forest Department, multifaceted growth, especially in Cox's Bazar, and the destruction of sanctuaries have been causing a shrinkage of elephant corridors at a rapid pace.
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The biggest threat to the Asian elephant is the loss of habitat and fragmentation as economic growth has led to encroachment into places where they live.
In 2019, an IUCN study identified several risks regarding the movement of Asian elephants in Bangladesh. It said the corridor that the elephants used for moving through Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong and the CHT were occupied most of the time due to various development projects, including those of roads and railways.
The Forest Department says such developmental undertakings have led to an average of 70% of elephants being found outside the protected zones.
Sheltering more than a million Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar is also another major cause of movement disruption in the corridors as well as food shortages.
“We should draw up thorough plans for development work while keeping elephants in mind as they need large spaces to survive. But in many cases we have noticed that planners considered it initially, but failed to follow through during implementation,” said Raquibul Amin of the IUCN.