Mostafa Kamal Majumder
Dhaka – To check human-animal conflict and illegal poaching of elephants along the India-Bangladesh border, the Union home ministry has cleared the decks for signing an agreement with Dhaka for creation of special corridors for the migration of jumbos, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Thursday, the EIN News has informed.
The two countries have had a few meetings and with the Border Security Force on board, the environment ministry hopes they will soon be able to ink an agreement aimed at conservation of elephants. In a communiqué to the environment ministry, the home ministry said, “The matter has been examined in consultation with BSF and security agencies. The recommendations appear to be logical and would help in minimising human-animal conflicts in addition to controlling illegal activities related to poaching and smuggling of elephants,” the report said.
It has been observed during about a decade that some herds of elephants have remained stranded in Bangladesh as their movement between dense forests in India and Bangladesh blocked by the barbed wire fences along the border. In the past such herds used to migrate to Bangladesh’s forests seasonally for fodder. This natural movement between the normal feeding and breeding grounds has been artificially blocked by the barbed wire fences that have been erected by Indian border guards over the last few decades.
For the last few years human-elephant conflicts have increased in Bangladesh leading to deaths of humans and retaliatory killing of elephants in the forests of Ramu in Southeastern Bangladesh and Jamalpur in northeastern part of the country. As encroachment of forests continues to increase and people keep building homes inside forest felling trees, elephants face shortage of fodder and their passage corridors blocked. This leads to conflict. In early 2015 a Garo tribesman was killed by a herd of wild elephants attacking him at his home near the forests in Jamalpur. The incident was followed by the killing of a wild elephant, apparently by the members of the slain tribesman’s family in retaliation.
In the last quarter of 2015 the death of as many as four elephants was recorded – three in the Jamalpur area and one in Ramu. Forest department officials have been quoted to have termed the death of the elephant in Ramu forests due to sickness apparently due to lack of adequate fodder. The elephant killed in the Jamalpur area were due to conflicts with humans. People living near the forests have said that elephants come to and roam about the homes built inside the forests, and their inmates shut the doors before sunset to protect themselves from elephant attacks. Curious people spend night at such homes to see the movement of elephants about 200 of those believed to be still alive.
India has around 3,000 elephants on its side of the border in the region while Bangladesh has around 200 elephants. A similar agreement is also expected with Nepal. The recommendations were made after a meeting was convened for trans-boundary elephant conservation last year. Both the sides were of the opinion that dedicated corridors are required along the 4000-km fenced border for free migration of elephants.
The MHA has, however, advised caution so that these corridors are not misused by insurgents. “While creating corridors for movement of elephants along the borders, issues related to security need to be addressed. The possibility of these corridors being used by insurgents/militants cannot be ruled out. From security point of view, creation of such corridors would require expensive preparation,” said the communication.
It further said adequate surveillance mechanism may be established to keep tabs on any suspicious movement through the designated corridors and awareness programmes conducted among bordering villages in order to sensitise people on various security concerns.
Wildlife experts in Bangladesh believe that allowing of corridors to the elephants by creating opening in the barbed wire fences would allow the Bangladesh elephants to visit their close cousins in the dense forests in Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya and Tripura. However there is a likelihood also of their disappearance from the country because of continuous shrinking of the forests. Some hilly forests in Southeast and Northeast Bangladesh no longer have the perennial water flows that have been destroyed by denudation of the hills that are in turn preventing natural storage (soaking) of rainwater into the soil during the wet season and their seeping down the slopes. Animals living in the forests thus face shortage of water to drink.
The planned opening of corridors for the elephants would be limited undoing of obstructions created to the life and livelihood of the elephants at political boundaries which do not necessarily obey dictates of nature. The two neighbouring countries however are yet to know or determine live and livelihoods of which other wild animals, reptiles, birds or even fishes have been affected the barbed wire fence at the 3000km long boundary.
(The writer is the editor, GreenWatch Dhaka)