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Elephants, monkeys and snakes have wandered into villages in Chittagong’s Banshkhali, Sitakunda and Mirsarai at an increased rate this year.
The clearing of forests in the hills was threatening biodiversity and forcing animals to search for new sources of food, experts and forest officials have said.
A lone elephant came down from the hills to Kokdondi village of Banshkhali’s Kalipur Union on Jun 23. “Our home and fruit orchard are very near to the hills,” said Pulok Debdas.
“Elephants never used to come down here. But they came here nearly 27 times this year. They come alone, in pairs or in groups of six to seven.”
The elephants ravage the trees around the household to eat jackfruits, pineapples, bananas and also bamboo before returning to the hills, he said.
They can stay up to three days, and sometimes rest in the house’s front yard, he said. “They are never disturbed here, so they don’t harm humans.”
“I used to get scared at first, but not anymore,” said Debdas.
Forest officials have been trying to convince locals to not clear banana plants which are the main sources of food for wild elephants, said Kalipur Forest Ranger Shahjahan Chowdhury.
“But the locals are shrinking their food sources by continuing to cut banana plants,” he said, mentioning a plan to replant trees in the Kalipur hills.
In Sitakunda, 40 to 50 monkeys ended up at the Sombhunath temple on Friday noon.
The group came from the nearby hills, surprising worshippers who regularly visit the temple.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ratan Chaktaborty, assistant headmaster of Territorial Bohumukhi High School, told bdnews24.com.
“There were infants in the group that emerged suddenly from the hills at the back. They seemed very desperate. They stared at the humans, hoping for snacks.”
“I bought bananas to feed the moneys, and there were others who did the same. The monkeys ate the bananas with much excitement.”
“We are aware that many animals including monkeys live in the hills near the temple. But they’ve never come to us for food. The adult monkeys in the group were quite large.”
Wild animals prefer wild sources for food, said Sitakunda forest official Abdul Majid.
“There aren’t many fruit trees near the temple. Locals have been farming vegetables in areas within the hills,” he said.
Natural forests have fruit trees, unlike those planted by men, said Majid. The number of trees has reduced dramatically due to deforestation in the Sitakunda hills.
The forest was in somewhat better condition at Baratakia and Baraiyardhala, he said.
In Mirsarai, Biman Kumar Deb spotted a 12-foot python hanging from a tree in his garden at Boidda village of Hinguli Union on Apr 24. The snake weighed 20 kilograms.
Another python, this one nearly six feet long, was found on a tree branch at Momintola, an area within the municipality. Forest officials rescued both the reptiles and released them in the forest.
The search for food brought the snakes out to the localities, said Rezaul Karim, a forest official in the Mirsarai region.
Seventeen pythons were spotted in localities in the period between last year and June this year, according to local journalists.
The hills in Chittagong were once enough to sustain the wild elephant population, said Professor Danesh Miah, director of the Institute of Forestry and Environmental Science at the Chittagong University.
“Elephants have been coming down to localities from last year. The reason is deforestation.”
But it was natural for snakes to come out of the forest during heavy rain, he said.
“Foreign trees are used in artificial forestation, which are incompatible with the food habits of our animals. Elephants and monkeys cannot rely on these trees for food.”
“They’ve cleared forests at Sitakunda and Mirsarai and replaced it with fruit orchards. Without forests animals will go wherever they sense the presence of food.”
That raised the chances of conflict, threatening both animals and humans living in these areas, the professor said.