Bangladesh: Villagers Face Fines, Jail Time for Killing Elephants

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2021-11-11
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Bangladesh: Villagers Face Fines, Jail Time for Killing Elephants Villagers gather to see a dead elephant in Bangladesh’s Sherpur district, about 115 miles north to Dhaka, Nov. 9, 2021.
BenarNews

Forest Department officials in Bangladesh said Thursday that they had filed cases against villagers under the country’s strict wildlife conservation laws over the killings of three wild elephants, a species considered “critically endangered” here.

Two of the elephants died of electrocution in separate incidents where they came into contact with electrified fences erected by villagers to ward off the giant beasts in efforts to preserve their crops, and the third elephant was shot by villagers inside a forest reserve, officials said.

“This is very unfortunate and painful to see three elephants killed in four days,” said Molla Rezaul Karim, a conservator at the Bangladesh Forest Department, which filed the court cases under the Wildlife (Conservation and Protection) Act of 2012.

The incidents took place in Chittagong, Sherpur and Cox’s Bazar districts between Saturday and Tuesday, he said.

“We have already filed three separate cases,” he told BenarNews. “We have strict laws against killing elephants.”

The 2012 act has a provision to punish the killers of endangered animals. It stipulates that any person convicted of killing an elephant or a tiger can face a prison sentence of two to seven years and/or a fine of between 100,000 taka (U.S. $1,167) and 1 million taka ($11,678).

Repeat offenders could face a maximum sentence of 12 years and a fine of 1.5 million taka ($17,500).

A forest department letter seen by BenarNews identified the alleged shooter of the elephant in Cox’s Bazar and said he had been jailed.

Bangladesh was home to between 260 and 268 Asian elephants, which were categorized as “critically endangered” according to a 2016 survey by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Another organization, the Arannayk Foundation – an initiative between the Bangladesh and U.S. governments to save the South Asian nation’s forests – claims 25 have been killed in the last two years.

Bangladesh and 12 other countries are home to the Asian elephant species, according to the IUCN. The elephants move in hilly areas along the borders between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.

‘The elephants destroy the paddy’

Jewel Akanda, a Sherpur district local government official, said the people he represents live in hilly regions that border the elephants’ habitat.

“The human-elephant conflict in Sreebordi started more than 60 years ago,” he told BenarNews, referring to his sub-district.

“The conflicts continue to increase almost every year as one or two people die from elephant attacks,” he said, adding that people install the electric fences to ward off the elephants, which travel in packs of about 40.

“They come to our areas when the paddy matures or vegetables grow. The elephants destroy the paddy and vegetable fields more than they eat,” he said.

Ruhul Amin, a divisional forest officer in Sherpur district, said villagers in his and other Bangladesh districts install the electric fences around their houses to stop elephants from eating their crops.

“We have already removed all the electric wires to save the elephants from being electrocuted. We have brought charges of killing the elephants in line with the Wildlife Act,” he told BenarNews.

Farid Uddin Ahmed, a forest researcher and former executive director of the Arannayk Foundation, said the conflict with elephants is a consequence of destroying their habitat.

“The elephants move in groups and follow some specific corridors. The elephants seen in Bangladesh move between Bangladesh and India and Bangladesh and Myanmar. This is because they are not exclusive to any particular country,” he told BenarNews on Thursday.

“But unfortunately, we have destroyed their habitats and corridors – people have erected houses, farmlands and other structures. The consequence is human-elephant conflict,” Ahmed said.

He noted that Rohingya refugees sheltering in Cox’s Bazar camps live in what had been sanctuaries for elephants.

“The elephants have turned aggressive. I think the human-elephant conflict could intensify as forest lands are turned into human settlements and agricultural lands,” Ahmed said.

Karim, the forest conservator, said his department has a manpower shortage and cannot protect elephants from electrocution.

“We have only 20 people in charge of protecting the wildlife in the forest in Bangladesh. When we see people setting up electric fences, we remove them,” he said. “Elephants have a long memory – they can remember their attackers for many years and are very revengeful by nature.”

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