A total of 67 wild elephants in the forests of Ukhiya and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar have been suffering from acute scarcity of food and water as their roaming and grazing grounds have shrunk due to the 32 camps set up for the Rohingyas in the area, forest department officials said.
The emaciated elephants have become violent, often attacking the localities in search of food, they said.
The forest officials fear the violent elephants might also attack the Rohingya camps.
“Two Rohingya camps (Putibunia and Chakmarkul) have been set up on around 1,500 acres of the 6000-acre national forest. Around 100,000 Rohingya people live in the camps. Earlier 20-30 elephants used to roam in the area. Some of them now occasionally come to drink water at Kudumguha,” said Hoaikyang national forest co-management committee president Alamgir Chowdhury.
The elephants looked emaciated, he observed.
People of local ethnic communities also suspect several of the elephants left the area as trees have been cut down and the Rohingya camps set up there.
They said the herd of elephants attack the locality at night and kill people and eat fruit and rice. Such incidents were unheard of even two years ago. The herds of elephants were seen roaming in the game reserve areas of Kudumguha, Hoaikyang and Teknaf.
A farmer, Abul Bashar, 45, was also killed in an attack of a herd of wild elephants in Kaidang area of Khuniapalang union in Ramu on 22 June.
Khuniapalong union chairman Abdul Mabud said five wild elephants attacked the house of Abul Bashar around 10:00pm.
Elephant attacks killed 25 people, including 13 Rohingyas, in Ukhiya, Teknaf and Ramu in the last two years, police and forest officials said.
Forest department officials said the elephants of Himchhari forest cannot go to the forests in Southern areas in Teknaf crossing Rohingya camps. They are going to Ramu, in the east, in search of food since no Rohingya camps are there on the way.
On the other hand, the elephants of Teknaf forest are stranded there as they neither can go to northern Himchhari or Ramu crossing the camps nor to eastwards due to the river Naf or westwards for the Bay of Bengal.
“A total of 67 elephants roam around within the 10 kilometre area between Teknaf and Himchhari of Ukhiya. But they cannot move freely as the world’s largest Rohingya camp has been set up on 6,162 acres of land there,” said divisional forest officer of Cox’s Bazar forest department (south) Md Humayun Kabir.
Local forest officials said five teams of 120 people are not being able to protect the trees of Hoaikyang national forest even after patrolling it for 24 hours.
The natural water reserves of the elephants have also dried up in the summer, they said.
According to the forest department, the 28,688-acre ‘Teknaf Game Reserve’ was established on 24 March 2010.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said wild Asian elephants are among the most endangered animals in Bangladesh.
According to the police and forest department two wild elephants died in the forests of Baharchhara in Teknaf and Inani in Ukhiya in the last two years. The elephants died of old age, the forest officials claimed.
IUCN Bangladesh country representative Raquibul Amin told Prothom Alo, “We have to give special attention to protect the forests of Teknaf and Inani where the wild elephants are stranded now.”
“Alongside the Rohingya camps, various infrastructural development works including railway lines and roads are being constructed in Cox’s Bazar. The livelihood of wild elephants will have to be included in the whole plan, otherwise they will begin raiding the locality more.”
*The report, published in print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza