Elephant Overpass: Development without sacrificing the environment

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To ensure safe passage for the endangered Asian elephants, railway authorities have built an overpass at Chunati, marking a milestone as the first overpass for elephants on railway tracks in South Asia. Recorded.

November 11, 2023, 9:45am

Last updated: November 11, 2023, 9:52 AM

Approximately 27 kilometers of the 102-kilometer railway line passes through Chunati Wildlife Reserve, Fasiakari Wildlife Reserve and Medakocopia National Park.Photo: Mohammad Minhaj Uddin

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Approximately 27 kilometers of the 102-kilometer railway line passes through Chunati Wildlife Reserve, Fasiakari Wildlife Reserve and Medakocopia National Park.Photo: Mohammad Minhaj Uddin

Approximately 27 kilometers of the 102-kilometer railway line passes through Chunati Wildlife Reserve, Fasiakari Wildlife Reserve and Medakocopia National Park.Photo: Mohammad Minhaj Uddin

The recently completed Dohazari-Cox’s Bazar railway line passes through three forest areas that are also home to the endangered Asian elephant. These amazing creatures depend on these forests for nutrition and water sources. To ensure their safe passage, railway authorities constructed an overpass at Chunati point, marking a milestone as the first-ever elephant overpass over a railway track in the South Asian region.

To further prevent possible collisions with trains, authorities installed fences on both sides of the overpass. Additionally, banana trees are strategically planted on the overpass to encourage elephants to use this route to cross the forest.

But experts warn that isolated land bridges may not be enough to allow elephants to move seamlessly through these forest environments. They argue that the reduction in corridors could significantly increase the risk of elephant-train collisions, putting the Asian elephant population at risk within 10 years.

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A comprehensive survey identified 16 elephant corridors along 27 kilometers of trails across these three forests. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducted this important study in 2016 to uncover elephant routes.

These corridors play a vital role in facilitating movement of elephants between habitats in search of nutrition and water. Critics say overpasses and underpasses built by Bangladesh Railways to facilitate elephant migration have proven inadequate and could threaten the elephants’ survival.

Approximately 27 kilometers of the 102-kilometer railway line passes through Chunati Wildlife Reserve, Fasiakari Wildlife Reserve and Medakocopia National Park. All these are important habitats for Asian elephants in the Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar region.

In 2016, the government removed protection from 276 acres of forest, 720,443 trees were felled and 26 hills were altered in preparation for railway construction. The project started in March 2018.

As part of the construction effort, Bangladesh Railway constructed one overpass and two underpasses as recommended by the Asian Development Bank, the project’s funding partner.

Elephant expert HM Raihan Sarkar, a key contributor to IUCN’s elephant route identification research, said reducing corridors would increase the risk of elephant-train collisions and could wipe out Asian elephants within 10 years. He warns.

In 2018, the Asian Development Bank conducted a Baseline Biodiversity Assessment (BBA) to assess the project’s impact on biodiversity. The BBA’s final report advocated the construction of one overpass and two underpasses, contrary to suggestions from elephant experts and forest officials.

Rafiqul Islam Chowdhury, forest officer of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Department, expressed concern over the lack of dialogue between railway authorities and the forest department regarding the construction of overpasses and underpasses. He points out that the underground tunnels that have been built are insufficient for large animals like elephants.

But elephant expert Raihan argues that building overpasses at all crossings is the most practical solution.

Abul Kalam Chowdhury, deputy project director of Dohazari-Cox’s Bazar Railway Project, told Business Standard, “In 2018-19, the migration routes of the elephants were identified by installing cameras. The overpass and underpass were designed by domestic and international experts.” There are banana trees and several types of bamboo, which are favored by elephants.

“We have already observed elephants eating samples of banana trees and elephant dung. Donor agency ADB will monitor the elevated tracks for two years after the trains start operating. If successful, ADB will “We will designate the flyover as a successful model,” he added.

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