S.Asian experts vow to protect endangered elephants
By Nazimuddin Shaymol
CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Asian elephant numbers are falling because of deforestation, road-building and expansion of farmlands and plans to protect remaining populations are crucial, wildlife experts meeting in Bangladesh said.
The South Asian wildlife experts concluded a two-day meeting in southern Bangladesh on Tuesday with an agreement for joint collaboration to protect elephants, whose numbers across Asia are now 60,000, down from 150,000 two decades ago.
The meeting aimed to provide guidance for the conservation of endangered Asian elephants, Jafar Ahmed Chowdhury, secretary of Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment, told reporters.
"The experts have agreed to evolve ways and means to protect and preserve elephants in their respective forests," he said.
Asian elephants, which are smaller than those in Africa, are found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Combodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
But numbers are declining because Asia’s growing economies and human populations are fuelling more demand for land and other resources, destroying the elephants’ habitat and placing them at greater risk of direct confrontation with people.
For example, in Bangladesh up to 15 people and eight elephants are killed in human-elephant conflicts every year on average, forest officials say.
"The plight of elephants in Asia is bad, but it is worst in South Asia due to the huge population," said Tapan Kumar, a Bangladeshi wildlife conservationist who attended the two-day meeting.
"We should allow the endangered animals to live in their habitat undisturbed."
About 75 experts from five South Asian countries participated in the conference jointly sponsored by the Washington-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Nairobi-based organization for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants.
The meeting adopted policies and programs for the conservation of endangered elephants, mainly in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Chowdhury said.
Migrating elephants were of particular concern.
About 100 elephants which migrated to Bangladesh’s northern Sherpur forests from India’s northeastern state of Meghalaya several years ago, failed to return because of development of infrastructure, such as roads by Indian border forces.
"These elephants are causing damage to crops, properties and human life in the region," a senior forest conservationist said.
The experts said a cross-border survey needed to be done to find ways of stopping migration of elephants and reduce human-elephant conflicts. Elephant herds naturally travel across wide areas to find food and water but some are forced to travel much large distances because their habitat have been destroyed.
Bangladesh has nearly 400 elephants, including 100 migratory pachyderms, and a similar number of captive elephants, forest officials said.