Asian Elephant Conservation Programme in Bangladesh

Elephants from India overstays in Bangladesh since India began to frequently close its barbed

Elephants from India began to overstay in Bangladesh since India began to frequently close its barbed wire fence gates obstructing return of the visitors. Frequent closure of the barbed wire fence gates elephants used for their movement increased a new burden on Bangladesh in terms of loss of lives, property and crops. The restrictions resulted in increased human- elephants conflicts in Bangladesh, said the forest department and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As elephants, which stray into Bangladesh in herds, cannot return to India, they venture into human habitations in search of food and cause damage to crops and property and the growing conflicts also claim lives of people and the tuskers, said forest officials. India usually closes the gates of its border fences after elephants cross into the forests in Sherpur district forcing the visitors to stay longer in Bangladesh than they did in the past, forest conservator Tapan Kumar Dey told New Age.

He said that the visitors stray into human habitations in search of food. The obvious consequence is damage to crops and property, he said. At least 473 rice fields and 88 houses, mostly located at the foot of hills in Bangladesh were damaged by elephants in one year since July 2014, according to the IUCN and the forest department. Forest chief conservator Md Yunus Ali said that he would raise with India the issue of its barbed wire border fencing which became a major obstacle for free movement of elephants across the border.‘I can’t say how far I would be able to raise the issue of border fencing and closure of its gates obstructing free movement of elephants at the first Bangladesh-India Trans-Boundary Conservation of Elephants Dialogue set to begin in Kolkata on August 19,’ Yunus told New Age. Yusus said that a 10-member Bangladesh team he would lead at the talks would include officials from the ministries of foreign affairs and environment and forest, IUCN and the Sherpur district administration. Officials said that Bangladesh expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with India stipulating coordinated action to ensure unhindered movement of elephants across the international borders between the two countries. They said that the MoU would also provide for prompt sharing of information of elephant movements across the border to minimize damage to property and crops and casualties of humans and elephants in Bangladesh. The MoU would also provide for sharing information relating to poaching of elephants and smuggling of elephants and their products and raising awareness of border guard personnel of the two countries to make them friendly to elephant movements and conservation of elephant habitats. The problem has been recurring since India began to close around 15 gates it had built on its border fences to facilitate unhindered movement of elephants after elephants cross into Bangladesh in herds. Conservationists said that the Indian Border Security Force personnel close the gates being fed up with disturbances caused by elephants. Until now, India fenced 2,735 km of its border with Bangladesh out of 3,436.56 km of international borders they share. Most notable trans-border elephant movement occurs from the Garo Hills Forest in the Indian province of Meghalaya to the nearby forests of Bangladesh in its Sherpur district. Elephant movement also occurs across the bordering forests of Bangladesh in Rangamati, Banshkhali, Chunati and Teknaf and India’s Cachar district in the province of Assam as well as Tripura province. Between 83 to 100 elephants stray into the bordering forests of Bangladesh in herds from India’s northeastern provinces of Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura. Bangladesh’s bordering forests in Sherpur, Netrokona and Jamalpur districts lack hospitable habitats for 40 to 45 elephants that frequent from India in herds, said divisional forest officer
Gobinda Roy based in Mymensingh. Unable to return to India due to closure of the gates they use the visitors are compelled to stay in Bangladesh longer than they did in the past, he said. Md Momtaj Uddin of Tayakura in Jhenaigati upazila in Sherpur district said that the incidents of elephants attacking people and damaging crops sharply increased since India fenced the border. Invariably, elephants used to go back to India within days of their arrival in Bangladesh when there were no barbed wire fences, he said. IUCN’s project manager of Status Survey and Development of Elephant Action Plan for Bangladesh Mohammad Abdul Motaleb said that the elephant trail must be kept open to facilitate unhindered movement of the region’s endangered spcies. The number of elephant population in the forests of Bangladesh has diminished to barely 200 to 250, according to forest officials and the IUCN. In last 12 and half years at least 226 people and 62 elephants were killed as the incidents of human-elephant conflicts increased, according to the forest department. According to a report published by the Times of India last month BSF personnel were facing problems in guarding the Indo-Bangladesh border along the Garo Hills due to elephants roaming the area in herds of 40or so in search of food. The Times of India report also said that BSF faced regular ‘harassments’ from the elephants which also damage the border fences. The herd of elephants not only damages property on the Indian side, but it also enters into Bangladesh and creates havoc there, e Times of India reported quoting BSF commandant TNS Redddy stationed at Dhanakgiri, Meghalaya. In fact, the herd regularly destroys rice grown by Bangladeshi villagers, Reddy told the Times of India. Reddy said that though elephant corridors were created, the animals ignore them and create their own paths by demolishing fences and anything else that comes on their way.