2020 turned out to be a bad year for endangered wild elephants in Bangladesh, as three were shot to death in Cox's Bazar within the span of just 10 days.
These elephants were killed by locals between 6 and 16 November upon looking for food in illegal paddy fields located within the forest. Between January and November 17 this year, 16 wild elephants have been killed in the Chattogram and Rangamati regions.
According to Forest Department data, such an alarmingly high number of killings within a year is unprecedented in the nation's history.
Most of these animals died of gunshot wounds or "intentional" electrocution. These incidents demonstrate the escalating conflict between humans and wild elephants, with man continuing to encroach on and decimate the habitats of endangered animals, said experts.
Construction of roads and railways, new settlements on agricultural land, and the construction of brick fields – all part and parcel of the development spree – are disrupting the natural movement of elephants along their routes and corridors.
Commenting on the issue, International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) country representative, Raquibul Amin said, "We must take steps to ensure co-existence of both humans and elephants.
"When taking on development projects, we are not currently thinking about their impact on elephants. We must plan accordingly to ensure the co-existence of humans and elephants, and we must consider them when embarking on development initiatives."
Amin further said, "Three corridors used by the elephants are now closed due to human encroachment. One was closed because of the Rohingya refugee situation, and the other two were closed due to government development projects."
Brutality without end
On 6 November this year, local miscreants shot dead a three-year-old baby wild elephant in the Kalapara forest area of Khutakhali under Chakaria upazila of Cox's Bazar. They then buried the body in the forest.
Forest department officials later found the body upon receiving a tip-off. An autopsy report revealed that the baby elephant had been shot in the forehead, and died due to excessive bleeding in the brain, sources said.
Within just eight days of this gruesome incident, another 30-year old female elephant was shot and injured on 14 November, when she entered a field to eat paddy in the Jumchhari forest area under Ramu Jowarianala of Cox's bazar. The injured elephant died on 16 November.
On 16 November, yet another wild elephant died of gunshot wounds and "intentional" electrocution in the Kharliyachhari forest area under South Ramu of Cox's Bazar.
Rashed Ul Majid, chief executive of the Environment People – an organisation working for environmental conservation – told The Business Standard, "Their habitats are being systematically destroyed, so the wild elephants have no choice but to enter localities or paddy fields.
"And the people shoot or electrocute them in the name of saving their property. The killing of elephants in a series of shootings has raised some grave concerns. If these incidents continue in the same vein, Asian elephants may well become extinct in Bangladesh.
He added that immediate action should be taken to protect these endangered elephants.
According to the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Division under the Department of Forest, 60 elephants have been killed in the Chattogram and Rangamati regions between 2015 and November 17 this year. The Department has filed 39 cases in connection with the killings.
Addressing the matter, Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife and Nature Conservation) Abu Naser Md Neyaz Yeasin said, "Some people are cultivating paddy inside the forest, which is illegal. When the elephants enter these paddy fields to forage for food, the locals kill them.
"The local forest department should take stern action to prevent these elephant killings."
Elephants are identified as a threatened species in the IUCN Red List, and Bangladesh must do more to conserve them. According to a survey conducted by the IUCN during 2013-2016, three types of elephants are found in Bangladesh – resident, captive, and migratory.
The survey also found 268 resident wild elephants, 93 migratory elephants, and 96 captive elephants in Bangladesh.
Rashed Ul Majid of the Environment People said, "Two-thirds of the 268 endangered Asian elephants in the country live in the Cox's Bazar and Chittagong Hill Tracts, but the area is now becoming too dangerous for them.
"The government should immediately take effective measures to protect these endangered Asian elephants."