UNHCR and IUCN highlight success of project to prevent human-elephant conflict in the world’s largest refugee settlement

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News Desk

A project launched 18 months ago to help reduce incidents involving elephants coming into conflict with refugees in Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, and host communities living nearby, has been a big success, say UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In the months following the large Rohingya refugee influx into Bangladesh in August 2017, there had been at least 13 deaths resulting from human-elephant incidents in the refugee settlements, located in an area that had been the main migratory pathway for the elephants.

As part of the project launched by the two agencies, 48 Elephant Response Teams (ERTs), made up of 586 refugee volunteers, were formed to prevent elephants entering the refugee settlements as well as protecting host communities living nearby. The teams successfully intervened in 93 cases where elephants had attempted to enter into the densely populated sites, helping to steer the animals back to the forest. They have also taken part in awareness and educational campaigns highlighting the need for peaceful co-existence with the elephants and ways to conserve their habitat.

The trained Elephant Response Teams, able to monitor elephant movements from 94 newly-built elephant watchtowers, have averted fatalities inside the refugee settlements where they have been operational.

“This has been a really key partnership which has had very important results”, said Mr. Marin Din Kajdomcaj, head of operations for UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar. “We are protecting refugees, but also ensuring the conservation of critically endangered wild elephants and their habitat.”

“UNHCR are committed to work through partners and with the Government of Bangladesh to help secure a more sustainable conservation and humanitarian approach”.�

A meeting of environment, wildlife and conservation experts in Cox’s Bazar, attended by Mr. Md. Mahbub Alam Talukder, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) as Chief Guest, discussed ways forward to broaden existing steps to tackle the environmental degradation in Cox’s Bazar and the Teknaf peninsula and to provide enhanced protection for the endangered elephants, thought to number around 40.

Addressing the meeting, Mr. Raquibul Amin, country representative for IUCN Bangladesh, said: “We will continue to work with UNHCR for the protection of Rohingya people and bring the best conservation science to protect the elephants.” He emphasised the importance of bringing together different sectors to help develop a longer term comprehensive forest landscape conservation approach to protect the elephants and to reduce human-elephant conflicts in both refugee and host community.

The meeting was also attended by Mr Todd Wofchuck, Coordinator, of the Energy & Environment Technical Working Group (EETWG) in Cox’s Bazar, Mr. Abu Naser Md. Yasin Newaz, Divisional Forest Officer, Wildlife and Nature Conservation Division, Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD), Chittagong, members of the Asian Elephant Expert Group of Bangladesh and officials from different government and non-government agencies.

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