A “plan killing” is allegedly being carried out in parts of the Bangladeshi forest known for being home to Asian wild elephants to illegally occupy forest lands.
The remaining 260 elephants have already been listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) mainly because of shrinking habitat and unusual deaths.
At least seven elephants were killed in the week before Nov. 21 inside and around forest areas, according to the Forest Department and environmental rights groups.
Four were electrocuted while another elephant was shot.
At least 33 elephants have died in 2021, including 20 who were electrocuted mostly in the Chittagong Hill tracts and coastal Cox’s Bazar. In 2020, 12 elephants were killed in the country.
Experts said there are a set of non-lethal methods to repel wild elephants from human habitat and croplands and farmers have been using them for many years.
But the latest incident meant something else — a well-planned killing method to grab forest land.
At least 160,000 land grabbers have taken 257,000 acres of forest land in 28 districts. And out of the total, 138,000 acres is reserved forest land, according to the Forest Department.
The worst case of illegal grabbing is found in coastal district Cox’s Bazar. Some 59,000 acres of forest land remained occupied by land grabbers which is 20% of total forest land occupied illegally in the country, it added.
Live wire, a death trap for elephant
“We found wild elephants were being electrocuted inside the forest area. And, using live wire is nothing but a cold-blooded murder of elephants to seize elephants’ home,” Dipak Sharma Dipu, president of Cox’s Bazar Forest and Environment Conservation Council, told Anadolu Agency.
“Forest areas continue to be illegally occupied in Cox’s Bazar in association with some forest department officials while there is a syndicate remaining in the area to smuggle elephant teeth,” he alleged.
Residents have cleaned forest land and started farming lemon, betel leaf and fruits in the Cox’s Bazar district while the forest department is doing little to protect forest land, he said.
“We didn’t set an example for punishment for killing elephants, like–killing animals is not a crime, which is contrary to the country law. Meanwhile, the human-elephant conflict response plan allegedly overlooked the safety of wild elephants.”
M. Monirul H. Khan, professor in the zoology department at Jahangirnagar University, is an expert who examined two dead elephants in the northern Sherpur district forest along the border with India, another home of transboundary elephants of Bangladesh and India.
“Locals set up live wire traps in many parts of forest lands with an ill intention to kill elephants to protect their ‘illegal’ farming inside the forest land that we came to know during the visit to the area,” he said. “Elephant is an animal of slow and long reproduction. If such killing is continued unabated then the already endangered wild elephant will be extinct within a couple of years in Bangladesh.”
Residents often use power generators to produce 220 volts inside forest lands if the power connection is not available, he said, adding that “law enforcement agencies should immediately join with the forest department in order to stop the use of live wire and protect elephants.”
Development, settlement destroy forest; government action needed
Raquibul Amin, the country representative of IUCN Bangladesh, told Anadolu Agency that about 40 elephants are entrapped in the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf area as the Ghumdhum corridor is blocked due to the Rohingya refugee settlement.
But the participation of residents and refugees in conflict management has been key to managing the human-elephant conflict compared to other parts of the country until the corridor could be reopened, he added.
The rail link between Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar have damaged elephant corridors. The destruction of elephant routes and habitats eventually forced wild elephants to circle human settlements.
“How locals set up such a deadly and illegal live wire trap inside the forest, and elephants being killed in live bullets,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s a governance issue and it needs a multi-stakeholder response to the multidimensional issues like enforcement to protect forest lands and at the same time address peoples’ livelihood challenges and participation in elephant conservation.”
He suggested making it easy for locals to avail compensation from the government announced packages. “Engaging the local community is a must to protect the wild elephants.”
Md. Anowar Hossain Sarkar, Divisional Forest Officer, Cox’s Bazar (North) Division, admitted that human-elephant conflicts have been rising recently and the use of live wire.
“In the week before Nov, 21, we found three elephants dead in Cox’s Bazar. One was shot dead while another was killed after coming across the live wire in the forest land,” he added.
“Yes, sometimes people use live wire as measures to protect their crops from wild elephants. And we cannot deny the incidents of forest land grabbing. Some homeless people reside inside the forest land,” he said.
“However, we regularly conduct drives against illegal forest land grabbing. A man was arrested in connection with shooting an elephant. We sent the other dead bodies of the wild giants for autopsies and action will be taken after knowing the cause of deaths,” he added.
The High Court earlier this week directed the government to take immediate steps to stop the killing of elephants and protect elephant corridors.