Elephants' life trapped in rail tracks and electric lines

This recent photo shows a herd of elephants moving in Garo hill in Sreebardi of Shrepur.
Hasan Mahmud

The recently announced Eidgaon upazila town is 26 kilometres from Cox’s Bazar city. The hotel-motel zone spreads over two kilometres and then a gigantic activity is progressing by cutting forests and hills to build a rail track.

A little far away is Eidgaon union parishad. There are signboards at every intersection. Those read, “Elephants move on this way. Drive safe.”

The construction of this 100-kilometer rail track from Chattagram to Cox’s Bazar is at the final stage. But, death and killing of elephants has increased in this area since construction started in 2018.

A total of 55 elephants have died during this period. Half of these elephants were either electrocuted or killed by weapons and most of these incidents took place in the forest area of Cox’s Bazar and Chattogram.

Three to seven elephants, according to the forest department, are killed every year but International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Bangladesh said the number is higher.

Thursday marks World Wildlife Day. The theme of the day is, “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”.

According to a 2016 data of the IUCN, there are 210 to 330 elephants in Bangladesh, with 268 elephants living in Chattogram region. 65 elephants are in the south forest of Chattogram, 58 in the south of Cox’s Bazar, 63 in the north of Cox’s Bazar, 30 in Lama, 11 in Bandarban, 28 in the north of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and 17 elephants in the south of CHT.

Danger of infrastructure

New power connection is being set up one after another in the inhabiting places of elephants in the forest in Chattogram, Cox's Bazar, Sylhet division, Sherpur and Mymensingh.

Power lines of Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board was seen in Edgaon preserved forest, Cunti forest, Chakaria and Fasiyakhali forest of Cox’s Bazar in January.

Though the signboard installed outside the reserved forest reads it is a protected area, paddy cultivation is seen inside it. There are also villages and settlements in the forest.

Roads, railways, and electric lines have been built inside these forests similar to the rest of the forest in the country like Lawachara and Lathitila. And, these cause the death of elephants.

Asian elephants are the highest number among those that are surviving amid difficulties. They move to and from Bangladesh, India and Myanmar via forests in Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar.

Twenty-one points of the 100-kilomietre rail track, which is under construction, fall on the habitation and movement places of elephant. Railway stations are being constructed in Islamabad, Dulahazara, Chakaria, Harbang, Lohagara, Satkania and Dohazari. And, more than 100 elephants move in these areas.

Rohingya refugee camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf at the end-point of Cox’s Bazar also created disturbances to the movement of elephants.

According to the forest department, the 128-kilometre Dohajari-Cox’s Bazar railway project, connecting Chattogram to Cox’s Bazar, will cross 15.8km via Chunti, 10.3km via Fashiyakhali wildlife protected area, and 9km via Medhakachhapia National Park.

Construction of this dual-gauge rail line will be completed in 2023. The project budget is Tk 180.34 million (18,034 crore) including Tk 1 billion (100 crore) to build footbridges and other infrastructures for the movement of elephants.

The conservator of forests (wildlife and nature conservation circle), Mollah Rezaul Karim said, “Government agencies building these infrastructures should take care the protection of the elephant.”

But the director of the rail track project, Md Mofizur Rahman said, “We hope the movement of elephants would not be disturbed once the project completes. Trees are being planted either side of the project site to keep elephant at a distance.”

Regarding the construction of separate infrastructures for elephant’s movement, Monirul H Khan, professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University, told Prothom Alo, “I have seen these infrastructures recently.”

“These infrastructures are being constructed with faulty design. These are not friendly to the movement of elephants either. These infrastructures would not be helpful to provide security to elephants.”

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna