India and Bangladesh are expected to soon sign an MoU on elephant conservation and management as top forest and environment officials of both the countries met here today to discuss on how best to alleviate the human-elephant conflicts. Forest officials from the states of Assam, Meghalaya, West Bengal and Tripura and an 11 member team from Bangladesh attended the 2nd Indo-Bangladesh dialogue for trans boundary conservation of elephants here and discussed at length on how best to coordinate the free movements of the pachyderms to and fro the International border and prevent their poaching.
“It was agreed (in 2015) to develop an operational guideline to handle trans boundary movement of elephants and as a follow up action of this, dialogue is on and the protocol or else a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two countries is expected soon,” Bangladesh Chief Conservator of Forest, Md Shafiul Alam Chowdhury said. He said the main aim of this was to ensure safe and free movement of trans boundary wild elephants across the international borders between these two countries. As both the countries have earlier met in Kolkata and agreed on how to tackle the human-elephant conflict in their turfs, Chowdhury said Bangladesh government has planted 7 lakh seedlings of elephant fodder species in about 600 hectare area in Shepur and Chittagong districts as bio-fencing apart from putting up a 20 km-long solar powered fencing and a pilot project of early warning systems in conflict prone areas.
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India’s Director General of Forests, Siddhanta Das admitted the need to come up with the guidelines as human-elephant conflict is on the rise. He said, “The human-elephant conflict is on the rise due to habitat fragmentation. Over 400 people die every year due to the conflict and it was the result of deaths of over 100 elephants.” He underlined the need to take people and the border guards of both the countries along as stakeholders in the process to help alleviate losses due to elephant movements. Stating that even as the new elephant census will be out soon, Das said the elephant population is about 30,000 (according to 2012 census) and has been growing whereas Bangladesh has about 200 of them.
In North East, there are 9000 known wild elephants out of which about 1800 are in Meghalaya alone and they sometimes cross over to Bangladesh through identified areas or corridors, he said. One of the reasons of the human-elephant conflict was because in India, only 22 per cent of migrations take place through protected forests while the rest of the time, they pass through forests, tea estates, orchards, agricultural lands, he said. Meghalaya Cabinet Minister Ronnie V Lyngdoh who replaced indisposed Forest Minister Clement Marak said over 14,700 human-elephant conflicts took place in the last seven years in the state causing deaths and injuries to 69 and 48 persons respectively.
Over 118 livestocks were killed and 1325 households were damaged and 1,13,194 cases of damages to crops, he said as these elephants criss-cross the 443 km long Indo-Bangladesh boundary as well as movement inside the state.