Elephant herd on month-long rampage in the hills of Bandarban's Rajbila

Every night, they roam through different villages, damaging fields and causing distress for 200 families in the affected areas

U She Thowai MarmaBandarban Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 18 Jan 2024, 08:02 PM
Updated : 18 Jan 2024, 08:02 PM

U She Thowai Marma, Bandarban Correspondent, bdnews24.com

A herd of 11 elephants has been roaming the hills of Bandarban Sadar Upazila for over a month, damaging land, gardens, and crops, leaving residents in constant fear.

According to the forest department and hill residents, a herd of large and small elephants entered some villages of Rajbila Union in the Upazila in mid-December.

Attempts to drive them away using bursting crackers and burning torches every night have proven unsuccessful.

The elephants are wreaking havoc in different villages every night and damaging the local farmers' fields, leading to a crisis for around 200 families living in these areas.

Those affected include 71 families in Jhangkapara under Rajbila Union, 50 in Taingkhali, and 67 in Block No. 9 of the rubber garden.

Despite being in the Bandarban district, Rajbila Union is administratively part of the Kaptai Forest Division in Rangamati district for geographical reasons.

Aung Shoi Pru Marma, the head of Jhangkapara village, said he was cultivating 800 banana trees and four maunds of taro, chillies, two maunds of ginger, and 1.62 hectares of flower bushes for making brooms. Unfortunately, the elephant herd destroyed everything in just two nights.

The elephant herd has been in the area for a long time, Kamal Hossain, the forest department's Rajbila range officer, said on Wednesday.

After personally investigating the matter, he confirmed that the herd is currently in block 9 of the rubber garden in the Union.

He suggests the hill residents attempt to coexist with the elephants without harming them, even if it leads to challenges.

The hills in Rajbila are low. The Jhangka and Naikya canals are active with flowing water.

Private banana gardens, hilly flower bushes, and ginger and turmeric fields can be seen on either side of the canals.

During a visit to the affected area on Tuesday, the smell of elephant dung was noticeable while walking along the Jhangka canal.

The road is scattered with litter, some of which is fresh, indicating recent movement by the elephant herd.

The nearby banana gardens appear to have suffered a natural disaster, with plants uprooted everywhere. The surrounding gardens of papaya, betel, and vegetables showed similar damage.

Farmer Angsa Ching Marma pointed to a damaged garden on a hill two kilometres from Jhangkapara.

He said it was cultivating about 600 banana trees, three maunds of ginger and six maunds of taro. "Sadly, the elephant herd destroyed everything."

The farmer expresses his frustration, saying, "If the elephants need food, they should eat it and move on."

"However, that's not the case. They eat half and waste half. The situation is tough as a lot of crops were damaged. Despite our attempts to make them leave, they've been here for a month and refuse to go away."

Pi Thui Aung Marma, another farmer, said, "I had 100 trees in my garden. Some were completely uprooted and destroyed."

"The plants were large, with good flowers, and I could have sold them for a good price after a few months, but the elephant herd ruined everything."

Puth Wai Ching Marma had planted 350 banana trees, four maunds of ginger, four maunds of turmeric, 200 papaya trees, and several hectares of flower bushes.

Now, there's nothing left, he said.

"The elephant herd has destroyed everything. Last year, I earned a lot of money selling flower brooms. It's tough for small farmers like us to recover from this loss."

Locals mentioned that despite being in Bandarban Sadar Upazila, they prefer to take their produce to the Islampur area No. 5 market.

This region is under the Bangal Halia Union in Rangamati's Rajasthali Upazila, next to Jhangkapara.

Wholesalers used to collect three to four truckloads of brooms from Islampur's weekly market.

However, because of the elephant rampage, hardly any flower broom is available.

ELEPHANT ACTIVITY

The locals recall an instance when an elephant herd visited the area around 10-15 years ago.

In contrast to their previous short visits, the elephants stayed in the area for an extended period without causing harm to humans.

Farmers speculated that the elephants may have been displaced from the Dudpukuria-Dhopachari Wildlife Sanctuary in southern Chattogram, where a significant portion of their habitat was taken over, resulting in widespread forest deforestation.

According to Rajbila range official Kamal, elephants follow a historical movement pattern, and if an area was once their habitat for a century, they are likely to return.

He suggests that the current area might have been an elephant sanctuary in the past, and now it could be inhabited because of the shrinking space available for them.

The Forest Department advises dealing with the elephants non-aggressively, using musical instruments and lighting torches or fires to drive them away while maintaining a safe distance.

However, it is essential to ensure that children, elderly individuals, and women are not left in front of the elephants under any circumstances.

The department emphasises that elephants should not be subjected to torture, killing, or capture, allowing them to coexist peacefully in their current location to prevent harm to people.

The ongoing issue highlights the diminishing land for elephants, leading them to venture into human settlements for food and shelter.

Wildlife experts stress the importance of addressing the conflict between humans and elephants.

The Elephant Response Teams (ERT) in Khagrachari district is working to resolve such conflicts by educating villagers on handling elephant encounters.

Unfortunately, there is no similar initiative in Bandarban.

A forest department employee emphasises the coexistence of humans and elephants, advocating for a balance where elephants can roam freely in their natural habitats.

He suggests that humans should steer clear of elephant territories to maintain harmony in the ecosystem.

COMPENSATION

Rajbila Union Parishad Chairman Ky Aung Pru Marma mentioned that many farmers have suffered because of the elephant herd, leading to requests for financial assistance from the district administration.

The affected families were compensated Tk 5,000, he said.

He emphasised the need for a lasting solution to the elephant issue, with a decision expected after a meeting involving concerned ward members, local traders, and the forest department.

Rajbila range official Kamal explained the government's compensation rules.

In case of a fatality in an elephant attack, the compensation is Tk 300,000.

For serious injuries, it is Tk 100,000.

Additionally, if someone's crops or house is damaged, they receive compensation of up to Tk 50,000.

These rules are set by the government and managed by a committee.

[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; edited by Shoumik Hassin]