The Bangladesh Forest Department, the steward of wildlife and forests in Bangladesh, is escalating the biodiversity conservation in recent years undertaking exemplary conservation actions and legal protections. Bangladesh Forest Department in close collaboration with few other conservation agencies has been leading the elephant conservation initiatives in Bangladesh. In addition to the multifaceted conservation actions, ensuring strong legislation and watchful enforcement are particularly important for elephants (Wilson et al. , 2013). Because, direct killing of elephants in the form of poaching or stray elephant killing and danger due to over-exploitation of forest resources in elephant habitats have been threats for wild elephants in most of their landscapes (Sarker et al. , 2015).
Asian elephants are labeled as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since they are in jeopardy in most of their habitats in Bangladesh (IUCN Bangladesh, 2008). Bangladesh Forest Department has declared seven wildlife sanctuaries i.e. Chunati, Pablakhali, Teknaf, Sangu, Dudhpukuria, Dhopachari and Fashiakhali; and one national park i.e. Kaptai National Park with a view to protect the elephants in their natural habitats. Additionally, the Chunati wildlife sanctuary has been declared as MIKE site in 2003. The establishment of several wildlife sanctuaries and national parks within adjoining biodiversity hotspots demonstrates the conservation significance of these vast landscapes.
Recently, Bangladesh Forest Department together with IUCN Bangladesh has mapped the elephant movement routes and corridors all over the country. They have also completed an extensive elephant population survey. Now-a-days, the co-management committee (CMC) established by the forest department is engaging the local communities adjacent to the Protected Areas to protect and manage the forest. The pioneer initiative specific to elephant conservation is the formation of Elephant Response Teams (ERT) by the forest department in collaboration with IUCN Bangladesh. ERT has been established across most of the human-elephant conflict prone areas of Bangladesh to connect the grassroots communities into the field level human-elephant conflict management as well as conservation of critically endangered elephants. They have been introducing a range of conflict management techniques in different conflict prone areas e.g. alternative cropping practices, bio-fencing, solar powered fencing, and setting up early warning systems on a pilot basis. The human-elephant conflict is considered as one of the most challenging issues in elephant conservation scenario of Bangladesh (Aziz et al. , 2005; Yadab et al. , 2012). Side by side, a number of education and awareness programs e.g. trainings, street shows, stakeholder engagement events, and community dialogues have been organized to involve and sensitize the concerned stakeholders.
Furthermore, to enrich elephant habitats and secure the food sources for wild elephants, Bangladesh Forest Department with assistance from IUCN Bangladesh has undertaken a couple of habitat improvement programs, where nearly 700,000 seedlings of elephant fodder species have been planted in over a 600 hectares area in Sherpur and Chittagong. In late 2015, the first ever transboundary dialogue was organized between the Forest Departments of Bangladesh and India. The aim of this dialogue was to ensure safe and free movement of transboundary wild elephants across the international borders between these two countries. The follow up actions of this dialogue are now ongoing, and a protocol or else a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between two countries are expected soon.
Bangladesh Forest Department has recently developed a Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU) in 2012 (WNCC, 2016). The WCCU is dedicated to stop and control illegal wildlife trade and related crimes and take actions against such activities. WCCU receives all kind of wildlife criminal information, and is reached by a hotline number publicized across the country. Formal and direct attempts to protect biodiversity and wildlife became observable in Bangladesh from 2001. The Bangladesh Forest Department created it’s new “Wildlife and nature Conservation Circle” (WNCC) and established four Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Divisions in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Sylhet under the WNCC (http://www.bdforest.gov.bd). Later, three more such divisions were established in Rajshahi, Habiganj and Sherpur regions. These divisions grounded dedicated positions to safeguard biodiversity and wildlife, primarily in the Protected Areas. Presently, landscapes with major biodiversity significance, such as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and eco-parks are managed by these divisions (Hossen, 2013).
The Bangladesh Elephant Conservation Action Plan is a step towards achieving the recently signed United Nations ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development’, commonly known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030). The Goal 15 of SDGs 2030 clearly manifested on the conservation and sustainable management of all life forms on land; ensuring the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of ecosystems, species and their services. The government of Bangladesh has legally protected Asian elephants through regulations and legislations. Importance has been given to the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources in several national strategies. At the same time Bangladesh showed strong observance to international guidelines, agreements and treaties for the conservation of its elephants.
Legal Protection at National Level
Bangladesh Forest Department is the designated agency for the conservation and management of wildlife and forests of the country. The Department has a longstanding history of operation since 1864 and till today has evolved through experiencing versatile regimes (Islam et al., 2006). Throughout these regimes, the operating philosophies kept changing but typically rounded on monitoring and controlling the illegal activities, regulating legal provisions, issuing permits and generating revenues.
Elephant Protection Act, 1879 was the first law regulating the hunting and capture of Asian elephants in the Indian subcontinent (Perera, 2009). It was not effective before the banning on ‘Kheda’ operation in 1965 which used to construct enclosures to domesticate wild elephants (Islam et al. , 2006). Bangladesh first highlighted the conservation of elephants by The Wildlife (Preservation) Order, 1973 by introducing light punishments and the most noteworthy regulatory step of declaring some profound ecosystems as Protected Areas to conserve the wildlife. This declarations protected elephants along with other valuable keystone species (Feeroz et al. , 2004; Hanif and Khan, 2015). The Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act 1974 defined the elephant as ‘protected animal’ prohibiting the killing except cases of self-defense, protection of crops and livestock; or disallowing their capture excluding approved scientific research or sanctioned transport or possession.
The National Environment Policy 1992 embraces a number of related different sectors including agriculture, industry, health, energy, water, land, forest, fisheries, marine, transport, housing, population, education and science. It delivered required actions in the development sectors of the country to facilitate long term sustainable use of all natural resources. It also gave the direction of time to time amendment of the existing laws. The National Forest Policy of 1994 is the amended version of the National Forest Policy 1977 enlightening the National Forestry Master Plan.
The Environment Conservation Act 1995 (ECA, 1995) is the main act governing environmental protection in Bangladesh which focuses on (1) ascertaining responsibility for compensation in cases of damage to ecosystems, (2) increasing the provision of punitive measures both for fines and imprisonment and (3) assigning the authority to realize the offences. Later, the Environmental Conservation Rules 1997 introduced a set of the relevant rules to implement the ECA, 1995.
The National Biodiversity and Strategic Action Plan 2006 provided a framework for conservation, sustainable use and sharing the benefits of biodiversity of the country. The plan focused on the cross-sector linkages with the biodiversity conservation, the social and the economic development in Bangladesh. The ‘Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2010-2021’ widely referred as Vision 2021 emphasized on the conservation of biodiversity by enhancing habitats of severely affected species having threat of extinction. The 15th Amendment of the Constitution of Bangladesh, 2012 (http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd) under the heading “Protection and improvement of the environment and biodiversity” gave the highest priority in the conservation of wildlife, biodiversity and natural resources. The Section 18 A of the constitution states that, “The state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife for the present and future citizen.”
The Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012 have emphasized into the conservation and protection of elephants and few other flagship species more than ever. The act mentioned the killing of elephant as a non-bail able crime and kept a provision of punishment for a maximum seven years of imprisonment and up to 10 lakh taka of a monetary fine. In addition, strictness has also been shown in the case of unlawful collection, carriage and trades of elephant body parts and products by sentencing a maximum three years of imprisonment and up to three lakh taka of a monetary fine. The act also exempted cases where the elephant became a threat to one’s life.
The Compensation Policy for the Victims of Wildlife Attack-2010 exhibits the concern of the government of Bangladesh towards protecting wild elephants. As per the policy, if elephants unfortunately kill a person, the victim’s family is eligible for a compensation of BDT 100,000. If an action of the elephant handicaps any person then the victim will be compensated by BDT 50,000. In case of crop raiding or damages of resources, then the claimer will receive no more than 25,000 BDT.
Adherence to International Initiative
The conservation of elephants and their range require cross-country and regional partnership along with global cooperation (Pant et al., 2015). Bangladesh adheres to international agreements, treaties or platforms of wildlife conservation even elephant conservation. However the extent to integrate the international guidelines and initiatives into the country’s national conservation strategies and policies require clarification.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): The CITES is an international agreement to ascertain that international business in specimens of wild fauna and fauna does not threaten their survival. The CITES includes both Asian and African elephants. Bangladesh ratified this convention on 20 November 1981 and entered into force on 18 February 1982 (www.cites .org).
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): The CBD forwards a dramatic step in the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of its components which was opened for signature on 5 June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio “Earth Summit”). Becoming a member in 1992 (http://www.cbd.int/convention), Bangladesh has been implementing various activities to comply with the provisions under the convention as well as its commitment towards conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
CBD parties committed a significant reduction rate of biodiversity loss achievable nationally, regionally and globally by 2002 to 2010 which leads to benefit all life on Earth and alleviate poverty. This target was subsequently endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the United Nations General Assembly and was incorporated as a new target under the Millennium Development Goals. At the 9th Conference of the Parties this Strategic Plan was considered beyond 2010 in its Decision IX/9. These targets focuses on protecting the species and biodiversity components as well as assessing the threats and promoting sustainable uses of these resources, consequently reducing the loss of biodiversity. The conservation of Asian elephant efforts are indeed contributing to achieve CBA and MDGs which is now embedded with the global goal 15 of the SDGs. In decision X/2, the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held from 18 to 29 October 2010, in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, adopted a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, for the 2011-2020 period. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets specifically focused on making people aware of the biodiversity values and integrating the values into national strategies, protecting threatened species from extinction, conserving important biodiversity habitats, and maximizing the ecosystems benefits. Admitting the Aichi target Bangladesh is planning to conserve 17% of its terrestrial and inland water; and 10% of coastal and marine areas potential for biodiversity and ecosystem services under protected area network within 2020. It is quite obvious that the efforts for elephant conservation are very much linked with, and would contribute significantly to, the achievement of the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE): The MIKE program is one of the international collaboration established by a resolution of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the CITES at its 10th Meeting in Harare in 1997 (http://www.cites.org/). The prime goal of the MIKE is to provide information required for elephant range countries to make suitable management and enforcement decisions and to build institutional capacity within the range countries for the long-term management of their elephant populations (http://www.cites.org). Bangladesh joined the MIKE in 2003 and declared the Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary as a MIKE site in 2003.