• deforestation, destruction of natural forests through jhum farming, indiscriminate hunting of wild animals and increasing population density have severally affected elephant corridors
• both elephant and human lives lost
• in the last eight years, 20 people have lost their lives in wild elephant attacks in Rangamati
• six elephants have died in the last five years
• two people, including a tourist, died in Rangamati in March, in five days' interval
• as mountain creeks have dried up, the elephants are also roaming around here and there to find a source of water
• forest department has taken initiative to introduce solar fencing in an area of eight kilometres in Kaptai to control the movement of elephants so that elephants do not come to the locality
Deforestation, destruction of natural forests through jhum farming, indiscriminate hunting of wild animals and increasing population density have severely affected elephant corridors in the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT), leading to a state of confrontation between elephants and humans.
In recent times, the encounters have caused the deaths of many elephants and consequently Asian Elephants – a heritage of the CHT – are gradually going extinct. On the other hand, elephant herds, coming down from hills in search of food, have killed people and damaged localities and crops.
Some short term plans were taken to address the issue but experts have said that long term strategies are essential to solve the problems.
KAPTAI NATIONAL PARK AND PAVLAKHALI WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
In the CHT, elephant movement can be noticed in two areas of Rangamati – Kaptai National Park in Kaptai upazila and Pavlakhali Sanctuary in Langadu upazila. The forest department claims that there are 40 to 50 elephants in the Rangamati forest.
Attempts have been made to develop these two places as wildlife sanctuaries, but in reality that did not happen.
During the dry season, when the water level of Kaptai Lake decreases, elephant herds come down to the localities of the upazilas associated with these two sanctuaries. In the last eight years, 20 people have lost their lives in wild elephant attacks in the district. Besides, six elephants have died in the last five years. In March, two persons, including a tourist, died in the Kamilachhari area of Rangamati-Asambasti road in a five-day interval.
PEOPLE IN KAPTAI AND LANGADU ARE IN CRISIS
Elephant panic has always been there among people living in the Kaptai and Langadu areas of Rangamati as there are frequent reports of deaths due to wild elephant attacks. There are reports of elephant deaths too.
The forest department has confirmed that at least eight people and three elephants have died in Kaptai upazila in the last two years. The latest elephant attack in March killed two people. Besides, crops and houses are being damaged in wild elephant attacks.
On the other hand, local residents in the Gulshakhali, Vasainyadam and Karalyachhari areas of Langadu upazila have said that elephants attack people when they go from one hill to another in search of food, causing panic among the people moving in this area. One person was killed and several others were injured in an elephant attack in the Vasainiyadam area last month.
Gulshakhali Union Parishad Chairman Abu Naser said that almost every year two to three people die due to elephant attacks. Elephant herds come down to the locality mainly from the adjacent Pavlakhali forest during the fruit and paddy season and harm people, crops and houses.
A maximum of five to six elephants can be seen moving in herds in this area encompassing three unions –Gulshakhali, Bhasanyadam and Bagachatwar. However, a single elephant is more dangerous, he added.
WHY ARE ELEPHANTS COMING TO THE LOCALITY?
Syed Hefazat Sabuj, coordinator of the CHT based environmental organisation Global Village, said that the area along the Rangamati-Kaptai road was a haven for elephants. Ever since this road was built, elephants and people have repeatedly confronted one another on the road.
Recently, the road has been expanded again unnecessarily and many trees and hills have been cut down indiscriminately, putting the safe habitats of elephants at risk, he added.
Besides, elephants are facing a food crisis due to indiscriminate deforestation. As mountain creeks have dried up, the elephants are also roaming around here and there to find a source of water, resulting in people and elephant confrontation, he said.
Apart from this, unplanned development activities have also put elephants at risk, he added.
Dr Supriya Chakma, chairman of the Department of Forest and Ecology at Rangamati University of Science and Technology, said that the crisis is being created mainly because of the construction of houses and the crisis of food and water for elephants.
ARE SOLAR FENCING AND SOLAR LIGHT SOLUTIONS?
The forest department has taken an initiative to introduce solar fencing in an area of eight kilometres in Kaptai to control the movement of elephants so that the elephants do not come to the locality.
Earlier, a solar fencing system was used in Sherpur and Bandarban to chase away elephants, said Kaptai Range Ranger Mohsin Talukder, adding that plans have been made to install solar fencing systems up to five kilometres from the Kaptai Navy Camp area to the National Park area. Elephant attacks on people are expected to decrease after the plans are implemented.
If an elephant tries to come to the locality, it will go back after getting electric shocks from solar fencing.
Dr Supriya Chakma at the Rangamati University of Science and Technology, said, "It would have been better not to have solar fencing, but in some cases it has to be done, keeping in mind the safety of human life and property. We also have to ensure that elephant habitats do not shrink. Besides, it is important to carry out research before launching a solar fencing system. This initiative does not seem to be effective without expert opinion."
Langadu Upazila Nirbahi Officer Mainul Abedin said, "With funding from Jica, the work of installing solar lights on the roads where elephants come down in the upazila will start soon.
At the same time, I have requested the forest department to have suitable food plants for elephants, including banana trees, in place. However, environmentalists are sceptical about the effectiveness of this strategy and have suggested a long-term plan."
Jhulan Dutt, a local journalist in Kaptai, said that elephants were often seen in the Kaptai National Park area and on the Rangamati road in the evening. The elephants move away when large vehicles sound their horns.
District Assistant Superintendent of Police (Kaptai Circle) Raushan Ara Rob said that an elephant enters her office premises and even corridors, which is scary.
Kaptai Upazila Nirbahi Officer Muntasir Jahan said, "During my tenure, there have been three deaths due to elephant attacks in the last six months and many houses and croplands have been destroyed. The project to introduce a solar fencing system to keep elephants in their corridor has been approved. The work has yet to start as the money for it has not been released due to Covid-19. Hopefully, the work will be resumed from September."
Rafiquzzaman Shah, forest officer of the CHT Southern Forest Division, said, "We estimate that there are more than 50 elephants in Kaptai and elephant herds comprising up to 30 elephants have been seen. Deforestation of natural forests has challenged the habitat and eating habits of elephants, bringing elephants and humans into confrontation. As a way of addressing the crisis, we are installing solar fencing in Kaptai. At the same time, long-term plans need to be formulated, including those related to afforestation of elephant food plants and keeping their corridors open.