Expert solutions to Asian elephant crises

A fact finding mission to the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh will help ease issues for the indigenous elephant population displaced by the migration
UPDATE: As well as carrying out their regular activities to help conserve the species, the Asian Elephant Specialist Group addressed a number of crises facing wild elephant populations in 2018, namely:

• supporting the development of a National Action Plan for the conservation of the Asian elephant in Bhutan;
• developing long and short-term plans to conserve the scattered populations of 134 Asian elephants in Vietnam;
• creating a strategy to manage the human-elephant conflict between displaced Rohingya refugees on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

The Rohingya issue remains pressing. Driven from their homes in Myanmar across the border into Bangladesh, 3,000 acres had initially been set aside to house the refugees. By September 2018 over 900,000 refugees were living in 27 camps covering approximately 6,000 acres – an area that had once been densely forested and home to upward of 45 elephants.  Between September 2017 and October 2018, thirteen human deaths caused by elephants had been reported in and around the camp area and, as the forests continue to be depleted by humans foraging for firewood, and food sources for the elephants are being destroyed, the conflict is set to worsen.

At the end of October, Working Group members keen to lend technical support to help mitigate the human-elephant conflict visited Bangladesh.

Although an elephant corridor (Ukhia-Ghundhum) has been identified in the camp area, construction works were still ongoing, including the building of a concrete transit centre. Despite this disruption, elephants were still coming close to the camps and had made several attempts to pass through the area causing high excitement and spreading fear among the refugees.

To prevent elephants entering the camp and to alert people to their presence, IUCN Bangladesh (the agency managing the HEC mitigation at the camp) has set up 89 watch towers positioned on known elephant entry points. Manned by 45 Elephant Response Teams with a total of 534 members recruited from among the refugees, they are helping to monitor elephant movements.

The Working Group recommended that as there is little information on how elephants are using and moving through the habitat on the western side of the camp, there needs to be a series of ground surveys along with the radio collaring of elephants before a plan can be developed. The Working Group is also in the process of drafting a report on possible solutions to the issue and will continue to feed into the process of keeping people and elephants safe in this unstable area.

Other activities conducted by the AsESG office included:

• Producing the 48th volume of Gajah, the groups bi-annual journal.
• Updating the AsESG website to be launched early in 2019.
• Organizing side events for the CITES Conference of Parties in May 2019 and the    International Congress for Conservation Biology in July 2019.
• Preparing a paper on the population status of Asian elephants and key threats for the International Zoo Yearbook.

As the main funder of this important global network of specialists on Asian elephants, Elephant Family is helping the Group to provide technical support to governments, promote the long-term conservation of the species and to convene the annual meeting that brings over 100 specialists together. The next meeting will take place at Sabah in Borneo in December 2019.

Elephant Family is hugely proud to support the AsESG and would like to thank Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and the Eranda Rothschild Foundation for generously supporting this work.

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