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Ethnic Cleansing Creates an Ecological Disaster

January 05, 2019

The Elephant Story has published a series of articles addressing the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in western Myanmar. The Myanmar military initiated the program to harass, rape, and kill the stateless, minority Rohingya people in order to drive them back to their historic home of Bangladesh. The Burmese Buddhist monks joined the cause creating a travesty of their own precepts. Interestingly, the adversaries of the Rohingya utilized Facebook to heighten the tensions between the predominantly Buddhist Burmese and the unpopular Rohingya. As Facebook has on the order of 2.3 billion users representing some one billion more people than the population of China, it is analogous to a government unto itself with very little oversight thereby permitting draconian behavior by the users. As a consequence, some 720,000 Rohingya have fled the frenzied destruction of their villages in Myanmar moving into Bangladesh.

It should come as no surprise that impoverished Bangladesh is ill-equipped to cope with this encroachment. Recently, National Geographic published an article entitled Endangered Elephants Trapped By World's Largest Refugee Camp. The tragedy is displaced people are now displacing the elephant population in Bangladesh. First of all, the refugee camps are huge and continuing to grow.

Second, the population in the camp requires 730 tons of wood per day for cooking. By law, a permit is required to cut trees but it is impossible to enforce.

Therefore, a fragile elephant habitat is shrinking with the human population growth and their need for fuel. Accordingly, the former rain forest is being transformed from a jungle habitat into an alien environment for an elephant.

The tree and ground cover removal eventually result in barren land and massive soil erosion.

Moreover, the historical natural habitats of the elephants are being eliminated.

Further, the historical elephant migration routes shown below have been barred by the settlements as well as high fencing and landmine placements on the Myanmar border to preclude the Rohingya from returning to Myanmar. 

The result has been the loss of thirteen Rohingya lives to being trampled by elephants. The death of the father of the children below is illustrated by the drawing of the elephant on the mud wall.

Elephant lives have also been lost to landmines placed on the border with Myanmar by Burmese soldiers to keep the Rohingya from returning. Moreover, the 38 elephants trapped in the forest are among only 268 wild elephants in all of Bangladesh.

However, there is hope as some 550 Rohingya refugees have built and maintain watch towers around the perimeter of the camp chasing elephants away with noise devices and strong lights at night. GPS collars have been placed on some of the elephants in an attempt to learn more about their behavior and movements.

At the same time, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is planning to relocate 100,000 refugees out of the elephant migration path without destroying considerable forest and begin supplies of alternative fuel sources. On the other hand, little can be done to remove the landmines and fencing to preclude the elephants from crossing into Myanmar.

The irony of this dark chapter is the hatred that generated the ethnic cleansing and perverse nationalism of a segment of the population of a country that was formerly called the Union of Burma. The country's name arose out of the multitude of different ethnicities and cultures that existed there which was bestowed on it by its first leader, Aung San, when the country obtained its independence from the United Kingdom after World War II. Sadly, his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy and the equivalent of the Prime Minister of Myanmar, has been very silent regarding the Rohingya atrocities. On the other hand, her title as the popular leader of Myanmar belies the fact that the same military that created the ethnic cleansing still control the country.

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