Ex­ploit­ing Ele­phants

The ele­phant is fast mov­ing to­wards ex­tinc­tion in Bangladesh. A highly ex­ploited an­i­mal, it needs bet­ter treat­ment at all lev­els, whether load-haul­ing, per­form­ing in cir­cuses or be­ing con­fined to zoos.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Faizan Us­mani

The ele­phant in Bangladesh is an ex­ploited an­i­mal and needs a lot of


What can bet­ter epit­o­mize the progress of the mod­ern age than tall sky­scrapers, rapid ur­ban­iza­tion, mind-bog­gling in­ven­tions, heaps of sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies, etc? But be­hind the veil of tech­no­log­i­cal won­ders lies a sheer dis­re­gard for wildlife that is fast los­ing its nat­u­ral habi­tat, be­com­ing rare and en­dan­gered. There is full-scale de­for­esta­tion be­ing car­ried out in the name of ur­ban­iza­tion and over­all en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion caused be­cause of in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment.

Hu­man civ­i­liza­tion is mov­ing to­wards the fall of the nat­u­ral habi­tat. For in­stance, ele­phants, the largest liv­ing land an­i­mals, have been re­duced into wan­der­ing as state­less species and that too in the land which was once all their own. The same is the fate of the wild Asian ele­phants found in Bangladesh, the land of such spa­cious forests as the Sun­dar­bans and Chit­tagong Hill Tracts. Now there is much less space avail­able for wildlife in these parts, es­pe­cially for the most threat­ened ele­phant pop­u­la­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est sta­tis­tics pub­lished by the Eleaid Asian Ele­phant Con­ser­va­tion Char­ity, a UK-based wildlife or­ga­ni­za­tion, the wild Asian ele­phants (Ele­phas Max­imus) are on the verge of ex­tinc­tion in Bangladesh, as the coun­try is left with only a to­tal of 239 ele­phants. Some 100 of them are held cap­tive and used in cir­cuses and for tim­ber haul­ing. In the range states, up to 70 per cent of ele­phant pop­u­la­tion is non-tran­sient, while the rest mi­grate over the bor­ders into Myan­mar and In­dia.

About two cen­turies ago, ac­cord­ing to Eleaid, there were hun­dreds of ele­phants liv­ing in the area that is now called Bangladesh, but the mighty an­i­mal is now listed as a crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species in the re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN), Bangladesh, the con­ser­va­tion of the wild ele­phant pop­u­la­tion is cru­cial for the sur­vival of the species in the re­gion be­cause their pres­ence is in­dica­tive of the func­tion­ing of a healthy ecosys­tem and bio­di­ver­sity.

How­ever, the con­tin­ued and un­con­trolled ex­pan­sion of hu­man set­tle­ments, as well as the ex­ten­sion of agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties in wild ter­rain, has led to habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion for many species, no­tably the wild Asian ele­phant whose pop­u­la­tion has dropped as much as 90 per cent in the last 200 years, says the


There are more than a dozen ele­phant cor­ri­dors in Bangladesh, mostly in the hilly for­est ar­eas of the coun­try. These cor­ri­dors are used by both the coun­try’s na­tive and mi­gra­tory ele­phant pop­u­la­tions in their search of food and wa­ter. This of­ten leads to con­fronta­tion with hu­man pop­u­la­tions and thus has a se­ri­ous ef­fect in terms of the hu­man-ele­phant re­la­tion­ship.

Liv­ing in­side or even near ele­phant habi­tats re­sults in crit­i­cal con­se­quences. Dis­placed and dis­pos­sessed of their land, the wild ele­phant herds raid crops and at­tack hu­mans, which, as a con­se­quence, trig­gers neg­a­tive feel­ings among the pub­lic to­wards the con­ser­va­tion and care of ele­phants.

From 2003 to 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Bangladesh Forestry De­part­ment, some 62 ele­phants and more than 225 peo­ple have been killed in such con­flicts. In Oc­to­ber 2016, a herd of wild ele­phants at­tacked a town in the Sher­pur district of Bangladesh, killing three peo­ple and in­jur­ing many oth­ers.

On top of every­thing else, the ele­phant is also used as a do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mal in Bangladesh, where peo­ple use it for com­mer­cial pur­poses to move and carry logs and to per­form in cir­cuses and sim­i­lar events. Out of a to­tal of 239 ele­phants, as per the sta­tis­tics shared by the Eleaid and the IUCN Bangladesh Coun­try Of­fice, there are some 100 cap­tive ele­phants in the coun­try wherein about 75 per cent are used in the log­ging in­dus­try for tim­ber haul­ing while the rest work in the cir­cus. De­spite the ram­pant an­i­mal abuse be­ing car­ried out on such a large scale, no step has been taken so far against the prac­tice.

“Most of the cap­tive ele­phants are found in Maulvi Bazar district in the north­east. Of the 17 gov­ern­ment-owned ele­phants, 13 are en­gaged in haul­ing logs. Of the 93 cap­tive ele­phants, 72 are used to haul logs, 17 are cir­cus ele­phants, three are zoo ele­phants and one is owned by the Bet­bunia Po­lice Sta­tion, Ranga­mati. The price of a cir­cus ele­phant is about $15000 on an av­er­age, while the tim­ber-haul­ing ele­phants are sold at $5000 to $10000. Peo­ple hire ele­phants to haul logs at the rate of US$ 60 for the whole day. Cir­cus ele­phants are rented out for around US$ 1900 for one year,” says An­warul Is­lam, a Bangladeshi wildlife re­searcher.

In­ter­est­ingly, the Forestry De­part­ment of Bangladesh, the ‘cus­to­dian' of the coun­try's wildlife, has yet to count the num­ber of ele­phants suf­fer­ing in hu­man cap­tiv­ity. To make mat­ters worse, the Third Sched­ule of the Bangladesh Wildlife Preser­va­tion Act, which is sup­posed to pro­vide for the preser­va­tion, con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment of wildlife in the coun­try, does not have a clause ad­dress­ing the is­sue of do­mes­ti­cated and cap­tive an­i­mals.

Ac­cord­ing to An­warul Is­lam, the gov­ern­ment pro­vided some pro­tec­tion to ele­phants un­der the Ben­gal Act 1879, which has been re­pealed. All wild ele­phants are now pro­tected un­der the Third Sched­ule of the Bangladesh Wildlife Act, 1974. Listed un­der Part II of the First Sched­ule, the rogue ele­phants can be hunted with a spe­cial per­mit in places de­clared by the Chief Wildlife War­den, but there is no such post in the For­est De­part­ment. Also, there is noth­ing in the Act to pro­tect do­mes­ti­cated ele­phants.

“Wildlife con­ser­va­tion has never been a pri­or­ity is­sue in the coun­try. Un­der the ex­ist­ing law, regis­tra­tion of the cap­tive ele­phants is the ju­ris­dic­tion of the For­est De­part­ment, but the de­part­ment has taken no ini­tia­tive so far. There was Wildlife Cir­cle in the For­est De­part­ment, but this was abol­ished long ago and now it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity (at least in the­ory) of the di­vi­sional for­est of­fi­cers to look af­ter wildlife mat­ters,” says An­warul Is­lam.

Ac­cord­ing to Eleaid, the mat­ter re­lated to ele­phant con­ser­va­tion is quite a con­vo­luted task to ex­e­cute in Bangladesh be­cause it is one of the poor­est coun­tries in the world and does not have ad­e­quate fi­nan­cial re­sources for the con­ser­va­tion of wildlife species. As far as ele­phant con­ser­va­tion is con­cerned, cur­rently there are no projects be­ing un­der­taken ac­tively at the gov­ern­ment level, says the Eleaid.

“The lack of fi­nan­cial re­sources and a ded­i­cated gov­ern­ment de­part­ment as well as the to­tal ab­sence of any con­ser­va­tion work means the ele­phants of Bangladesh are re­liant on their sur­vival by liv­ing in ar­eas iso­lated from hu­man be­ings,” ac­cord­ing to Eleaid.

A jour­ney from abun­dance to rar­ity, the wild Asian ele­phant is on the verge of ex­tinc­tion in the land of the Ben­gal Tiger. Com­pared to the rest of the Asian coun­tries with ele­phant pop­u­la­tions, Bangladesh re­mains the only coun­try in the con­ti­nent where ele­phants are re­garded as the most threat­ened and can be only saved from to­tal ex­tinc­tion if their habi­tats, ex­ist­ing cor­ri­dors and routes across the bor­ders are se­cured through a long-term con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tive taken in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Un­for­tu­nately, this re­mains the “ele­phants’ only chance of sus­tain­able sur­vival,” says Eleaid.

The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

The Forestry De­part­ment of Bangladesh, the ‘cus­to­dian’ of the coun­try’s wildlife, has yet to count the num­ber of ele­phants suf­fer­ing in hu­man cap­tiv­ity.

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