At least 79 elephants roaming the Bangladesh forests died in the last 19 years – mostly killed by ivory smugglers, and because of conflicts with humans.
Some 34 elephants lost their lives during 2015-2019 alone, said Mihir Kumar, conservator of the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department in Khagrachhari.
A forest official in Khagrachhari, however, said the actual number of elephant deaths was much higher.
It was more than 100, the official said, requesting anonymity.
Besides smugglers, these wild animals are now being increasingly threatened by the loss of their habitats as more human settlements, development work, industries are being set up in these regions. Experts fear time may come when elephants will not be found in Bangladesh if effective steps are not taken to conserve them immediately.
Elephant population in Bangladesh
The number of elephants living in the forests of Bangladesh is not conclusive. According to a survey by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2015, the elephant population was between 280 and 290.
According to an IUCN survey in 2010, some 195 to 227 elephants were there in 11 forests of the country. There were 30 to 35 wild elephants in the Chattogram Forest Department's south zone.
In 2001, a herd of 20 elephants was seen in Chattogram north zone, but now there is no trace of them.
In north Cox's Bazar, there were seven to nine elephants while in south the number was between 30 and 35. In Lama Forest of Bandarban, there were 35 to 40 elephants.
Besides, some elephants are found in Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Mymensingh.
The number of elephant deaths was higher than the number of their reproduction, speakers said at the 2010 seminar.
Most of the deaths occurred in Cox's Bazar, Chattogram and the Hill Tracts region. According to sources in the Forest Department, 18 elephants died only in Cox's Bazar.
Four wild elephants died in south of Chattogram and in Lama upazila of Bandarban in November last year.
"Elephants are losing their natural habitats as new roads, rail lines and human habitations are being set up there. That is why the elephants are attacking human habitations. They die of different types of illness and, sometimes, they die after falling from hilltops," said SM Kaiser, divisional forest officer in Lama.
"If the number of elephants decreases at this rate, this species will go extinct in Bangladesh soon," Kaiser added.
Alok Pal, professor of geography and environmental studies at Chattogram University, said, "We should now think about how to preserve the population of wild elephants in the country."
A Forest Department official, seeking anonymity, said there was no proper initiative to save wild elephants in Chattogram Hill Tracts.
"There is no accurate statistics regarding the number of elephants. Smugglers are killing elephants for ivory. Most killings occur in the forests of Bandarban," the official said.
However, when contacted, Bandarban's Deputy Commissioner Daudul Islam refused to make any comment on the issue. He advised this correspondent to talk to the Forest Department.
The elephant-human conflict is nothing new in this region.
East India Company's documents between 1787 and 1800 show that wild elephants had damaged a large amount of crops in the region. The zamindars of Alapsingha, Bhawal and Hajardir sought help from the British rulers to get relief from wild elephants in 1787.
The then government made a law named "Kheda" to catch wild elephants. Kheda was a kind of trap to catch elephants.
The law was abolished in 1884.