Wild elephants raid villages for food (Bangladesh)


Mirza Shakil, The Daily Star

Date Published
A herd of elephants graze on the hills at Poragaon union of Nalitabari upazila of northern Sherpur. This and two other herds entered several villages looking for food. The photo was taken recently. Photo: Courtesy
It’s a battle for survival.
Loss of habitats and food sources has forced at least three herds of around 60 to 70 wild elephants of Tangail’s Garo hills to march to adjacent villages in search of food, triggering a conflict with villagers.
These mega-herbivores, that can consume a year’s harvest in just a few days, are raiding the croplands and gardens of toiling people of around 60-kilometer area of Nalitabari, Jhenaigati and Sreebardi upazilas.
According to Sherpur district administration, a herd of about 15 to 20 wild elephants entered the Garo hills in Bangladesh from Meghalaya of India’s Assam in 1997. They did not go back as the hills offered them abundant food and habitat.
However, things started being different as these Elphas maximuses bred and tripled their number over the past years while men continued to increase the encroachment on the wildlife habitats.
A highly intelligent species, the elephants are now returning what the humans did to them.
Almost every night, the crop-raiding giants come down the hills and choose croplands as an easy source for their nutrition. People of the areas, however, are certainly not glad about this.
“How can we survive if they (elephants) destroy all our crops?” said a farmer of Nakugaon village in Sherpur’s Nalitabari. The elephants rampaged through at least 20 acres of rice fields in the village last week.
“We have stopped doing everything except guarding our farmlands from dusk to dawn,” said Saheb Ali, a farmer of Tarani village of the same upazila.
Hundreds of farmers like him are spending sleepless nights with spears, torch and sticks to protect their only source of livelihood from these largest land mammals that too are badly in need of food.
Worse still, the villagers fear for their lives every day as more than 50 people were killed by the marauding elephants in the past 17 years, according to the district administration.
Both the number of the elephants and the people of the area have multiplied since 1994. An ever-increasing population is destroying the habitats and grazing zones of the elephants, forcing the giants to raid the villages, says local green activist Mannan Sohel.
The wild elephants cannot return to the forests of Meghalaya either as India has erected barbed fences on the border, say local foresters.
In a desperate bid to rid themselves of elephant attacks, locals want electricity connection to the villages immediately, as elephants fear light at night, Mokhlesur Rahman, chairman of Sherpur’s Nalitabari upazila parishad, told The Daily Star.
Zakir Hossain, deputy commissioner (DC) of Sherpur, however, said the administration was working to find a way to ensure peaceful coexistence of the elephants and humans.
“The lives of the wild elephants are valuable but the lives of people are more valuable. Though it is tough to ensure a peaceful co-existence, measures are being taken to save both,” he said.
Different organisations, with the help of local administration, are conducting awareness programmes among the locals to keep them from harming the animals.
When asked about the demand of the environmentalists to create a sanctuary for the endangered species in the area, the DC said, “Where will I shift the people then?” — a question that reveals a disturbing picture of the severely damaged equilibrium of nature; a question that has no easy answer.