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Indo-Bangla Group on Jumbo Passage

Shillong, July 27: India and Bangladesh today decided to constitute a joint working group to evolve standard-operating procedures to facilitate smooth migration of elephants along the border between the two countries and reduce man-animal conflict.

The forest and environment ministry officials from the two countries have decided this during the second Indo-Bangladesh Dialogue on Trans-Boundary Elephant Conservation here today.

A draft "agreed points of action" was adopted where both the countries will sign the protocol before going to the third dialogue to be held in Bangladesh in June next year.

Speaking to reporters after the dialogue, the director-general of forests, Siddhanta Das, who is also special secretary to the Union ministry of environment and forest and climate change, said representatives from both the countries discussed how to ensure long-term conservation and natural migration of elephants along the India-Bangladesh landscape with minimum danger and loss to human life and property.

Announcing the "agreed points of action", Das said a joint working group would be constituted within 60 days to develop protocols for trans-boundary conservation and management of elephants in the India-Bangladesh landscape.

Das said the other "agreed points of action" include periodical updates, sharing of location and critical period for trans-boundary migration of elephants on real time basis across the India-Bangladesh border, facilitate natural migration through appropriate openings of gates and mechanisms at local level, monitor and detect the presence and movement of elephants on identified migratory corridors across by installing mutually agreed technologically assisted aids/devices during migration, establish response teams and deploy squads to guide such elephants which have strayed into human settlements and fields towards their natural habitat.

The dialogue also stressed constituting a joint co-ordination group at the district level across the international border, empowering district authorities of both the countries to permit trans-boundary movement of elephant rescue teams, discouraging and regulate setting up of electric fences for protection of crops in areas falling under identified migratory corridors to prevent death of elephants from electrocution.

Das said 12 points in Meghalaya and one in Assam have been identified for movement of elephants during the migration season and there will be gates in these points (corridors) to facilitate this.

On how to prevent miscreants from using the gates, Das said, "To prevent such elements from using the gates, we will ensure that the border guards and support staff of the forest department remain there when elephants are passing through."

Das said issues related to safe passage of migrating elephants across the international border and sharing of information on poaching and smuggling of elephants and elephant products were discussed.

He said Bangladesh officials expressed concern over the migration of elephants from India and discussed various measures how to bring back to India. "It is a natural process where elephants go there and come back, and our job is to facilitate the natural migration besides bringing back elephants swept away by floods," he said.

The Northeast and the eastern region of India bordering Bangladesh are important habitats of Asian elephants. Elephant-range states in these regions include Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, West Bengal and Tripura.

The states of the Northeast are home to more than 9,000 wild elephants of which nearly 1,800 are found in Meghalaya. It was estimated that Bangladesh has a total of around 200 wild elephants.

Earlier in the day, Meghalaya urban affairs minister Ronnie V. Lyngdoh, who inaugurated the dialogue, said in the last seven years, the state reported 14,754 cases of man-elephant conflict, with 69 human fatalities and 46 injuries. He said over 118 livestock were killed, 1,325 households were damaged and 1,13,194 cases of crop destruction registered.

By Rining Lyngdoh

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