A herd of elephants is crossing the West Bairag section of the tunnel road.
For the past six years, the group of elephants has been roaming in the hills, lakes and forests of Chittagong. Crops are damaged in their attacks, people’s lives are lost. Recently, the newly constructed tunnel road crossing incident has again brought the herd of elephants into discussion.
One night last week, three elephants of the herd crossed the western Bairag section of the approach road built at the Anwara end of the Bangabandhu Tunnel. The video went viral on social media. Before this, another video of an elephant crossing came into discussion last September.
Multiple herds of elephants move over Karnaphuli, Anwara and Banshkhali upazilas of Chittagong. A group of him was seen in the video. They roam across five unions of Karnaphuli and Anwara upazilas.
Local residents say that they are always in fear of the rampage of this group of elephants. Elephants attack almost at night in search of food including rice and banana trees.
People’s representatives of the area have written to the forest department several times to remove the elephants. The forest department is also providing regular compensation to the dead, injured and victims.
However, the forest department and experts say that elephants cannot tolerate any obstruction in their corridors. And because it is the ancestral home, the elephant group is not leaving this area.
Where did it come from?
The journey of Korean Export Processing Zone (KPZ) started around 2006-07 in Bara Utan Union of Karnaphuli Upazila of Chittagong and Bairag Union of Anwara Upazila on about two and a half thousand acres of hilly land.
In the area surrounded by Deyang Hills, there has been more movement of elephants since 2012-13. According to the local residents and the forest department, elephants used to come and go, but it was relatively less.
At the end of 2018, the group of elephants started living permanently in the KEPZ area. In mid-2019, the first human death occurred in the area due to an elephant attack.
Bara Utan of Karnaphuli Upazila and Bairag, Barkhain, Battali and Barshat of Anwara Upazila; For the last 6 years, the elephant gang has been running ‘robbery’ in these five unions.
In the beginning this group consisted of two big and one small elephant. Sometimes another large elephant is seen with this group. To the locals it is known as the ‘tail cut’ elephant.
Anisuzzaman Sheikh, Range Officer of Jaldi Wildlife Sanctuary, told bdnews24.com, “I saw in 2012-13 while working in the area, since then there were several groups of elephants. The group remained there permanently after 2018.
“Basically there are several elephants in Chunti Sanctuary. There is also in Banskhali forest. That area from Chunti to Banskhali in Anwara is the elephant corridor. Several groups of elephants ply this route. This group also came on the same path.”
Baruthan Union Chairman Muhammad Didarul Alam said, “They go to different places in search of food after evening. But by midnight or early morning again KEPZ returns to the area. It is said that where the ancestors of elephants live, the next generation of elephants will also come.”
Loss of life and crop damage
The Sundari Para village of Big Utan is in the lap of Deyang Hill. This group of elephants comes there almost every night.
Milli Akhtar, a resident of that village, told bdnews24.com, “Elephants come to eat paddy at night. He attacks the house where there is paddy. Eat the banana tree. Boundary fences and even walls were kicked and broken. Many times it has gone from the yard and eaten the rice kept in the barn.
“Three people, including a child, have died in our area in the past few years. At night, local men keep watch with firecrackers, bats, and mics. Elephant production has increased over the last 8-10 years. It was not like this before.”
Didarul Alam, Chairman of Bara Utan, said that people in the area do not move at night due to fear. 25-30 people were injured. Elephants attack from house to house. Even students cannot study in peace. Candidates go to their relative’s house in the surrounding area during the exam.”
Nawab Ali, chairman of the nearby Bairag union, told bdnews24.com that in the last few years, around 20 people have died in five unions due to elephant attacks.
“Any time they come to the locality. Goes down to the cultivated land. Damaged crops worth several crores of rupees.”
Forest officer Anisuzzaman Sheikh said that every 2-3 months compensation is given to the families killed and injured in elephant attacks.
Elephant sighting on Tunnel Road
Last week, the herd of elephants was seen crossing the western Bairag section of the link road at the Anwara section of the Karnaphuli tunnel. There were three elephants in the group. Several videos of crossing the tunnel link have gone viral on social media.
A resident of Anwara upazila who witnessed the incident. Delwar told bdnews24.com, “I was going that way with the car around 2 am. By the time I reached there, the elephants had crossed the road and gone down to the land on the other side. I see them leaving from a distance.”
Nawab Ali, chairman of Bairag Union, said, “There are sometimes three and sometimes four elephants in a group of elephants. At night they come from over there in KEPZ. They have come to our area many times before.
“This time they were seen through the tunnel road. The tunnel will open in a few days. Then there will be traffic. If the elephant gets down at that time it can be a safety risk. We have told the forest department many times. Everyone, including the local administration, knows about elephants.”
Anisuzzaman Sheikh, Range Officer of Jaldi Wildlife Sanctuary, however, does not think there will be any problem in Tunnel Red due to elephants.
He said, “In other parts of the country where there are elephants, traffic also comes on the main road. The car stops when it sees the elephant. It does not cause any problem in traffic.”
When asked, Bangabandhu Tunnel project director Harun Or Rashid Chowdhury told bdnews24.com, “Suddenly, a group of elephants may come that way. When elephants are there, they will move.”
Corridors and habitats
There are about 25 large lakes, gardens and hilly areas in the KEPZ area. The elephant group spends most of its time there.
Forest officer Anisuzzaman Sheikh said, in the beginning, the hilly area of KEPZ was cleared. There were few plants. People’s settlements in the surrounding areas also increased then. Later, as the trees grew there and the lake was created, the movement of elephants increased.
“An elephant needs 80-100 liters of water and plenty of food a day. And because of the corridor, several groups of elephants used to come and go in that area. One group of which has been permanent. Maybe their ancestors were here. So they are permanent.”
In the last 6-7 years, several groups of elephants have been traveling on the Chunti-Banshkhali-Anwara route, but no other group has settled there.
Director of Forest Academy Chittagong Dr. Molya Rezaul Karim said that last year a baby elephant was born in that group.
“Elephants maintain corridors. Their corridor stretches from Anwara through Banskhali to Chunti. Elephants do not tolerate any obstacles in the way of movement. People have built one after another in their corridors for various reasons. It has blocked their corridor.”
According to Molya Rezaul Karim, the information stored in the elephant’s memory is transferred from one generation to another. The ancestors of these elephants also traveled this route.
“The elephants are stuck at one end of their corridor. Another tendency of elephants is to walk about 50 kilometers after a meal. If they don’t walk, they have digestive and metabolic problems. That is why elephants can be seen in different areas at night.”
The explanation of the experts, however, does not reduce the concern of the locals. Bara Utan chairman Muhammad Didarul Alam expressed his disappointment that despite repeated requests to the administration to remove the elephants, no action was taken.
He said, “The former deputy commissioner visited this area. The meeting has been held several times with the Minister of Lands. He said, if it takes money to move the elephant, he will give it. But the forest department has not taken any initiative.”
When asked about this, Forest Officer Anisuzzaman Sheikh said, “These are elephants born in nature. It is not possible to remove them from there.”
Molya Rezaul Karim, however, sees a different solution. He said that minimum space for movement should be given to the elephants. Due to the obstruction in the corridor, there is conflict between elephants and humans.
“After 8 km of solar fencing in Kaptai, the conflict has reduced a lot. 2 km solar fencing has also been done at Nalitabari in Sherpur. Here too human settlements can be secured by similar solar fencing. But before that, a good study of elephants is needed.”