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.
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.