Never before did the country come across the shocking news of killing of so many elephants by electrocution as it has been a witness to, of late. The High Court took cognisance of the rapacious murder of the giant creature listed as an endangered species in this country. Upon a writ petition, it has directed the authorities concerned to take necessary measures immediately in order to stop killing of the animals and intrusion of humans into their corridors.
The killing of seven elephants ---two in Sherpur and five in Cox's Bazar and Chattogram --- in just 11 days this month prompted three wildlife protection activists to file a public-interest writ petition seeking an end to such pachyderm murder. During the past 21 years, the number of deaths of the Asian elephants here stood at 131. Under the Wildlife (Conservation) Act, 2012, killing an elephant is a criminal offence. Forest officers in Sherpur, Cox's Bazar and Chattogram brought charges against those who used traps for electrocution of intruding elephants. Those accused may be sentenced to one to seven years in prison along with fines if found guilty by the court.
The second part of the directive issued by HC refers to human intrusion into corridors of the elephants in different forests. In reality, the gentle giants are not the intruders rather humans are. The HC has mentioned corridors through which the animal herds move from one forest to another or within a forest. But the origin of the human-elephant conflict lies in the massive encroachment of forestlands by the human species. Dwindling forest areas have compelled the pachyderms to make incursions into crop fields and human localities.
There are no effective measures to stop human settlements in and grabbing of forestlands. In fact, leasing out such lands to different agencies for building infrastructure and setting up of manufacturing plants by the authorities have hastened the depletion of forests in this country. Construction of camps for the Rohingya refugees closing the corridors of elephants in Cox's Bazar only worsened the man-elephant conflict to the breaking point. No wonder, in at least one such confrontation between an elephant and Rohingya people, a refugee lost his life under the feet of an enraged elephant.
Involved here is no ordinary but a highly intelligent animal which is by nature gentle but once unnecessarily disturbed or threatened, it becomes furious and vengeful. So, when farmers complain that elephants are destroying their crops and huts, one can sympathise with them for the loss they incur but at the same time one must not forget that the animals have been doing so because their habitats have been destroyed for human settlements and growing crops in the first place. Shortage of food in the depleted forests has forced them to forage outside the shrunken forest areas in this country.
India encountered similar human-elephant conflict two to three decades ago. The neighbouring country then introduced some policies and action plans in order to minimise the conflict. Unfortunately, no such elephant or wildlife-friendly policy and plan of action have been in place here. Even in the existing reduced forestlands, the conflict between man and wildlife can be minimised if certain measures are adopted.
For example, whatever pristine forest cover is left should not be interfered with. Additionally, there is a need for plantation of trees, herbs and creepers in the depleted areas in order to turn them into thick forest within the shortest possible time. What will prove a highly effective measure is to increase the supply of food by way of creating forests along the corridors used for movement of wild animals.
In case of elephants, ample supply of banana plants and other herbs and creepers they love most to eat can be ensured by systematically planting those within the forest boundaries. Such areas will have to be declared reserve forests for these giant animals and they will not make incursions into human localities.