Encroachment, poor hatching rate, pollution and inadequate care have posed a serious threat to the rare ‘Bostami turtles’ living in the pond of Hazrat Bayezid Bostami shrine in Chittagong.
In 2002, the turtles, locally known as Gozari-Madari, were declared extinct by International Union for Conservation of Nature. The turtles can be found only in Sylhet and in Assam of India, apart from the shrine pond.
In the last ten years, the turtles hatched at a poor rate which was a warning of ‘extinction’, wildlife experts and zoologists have said.
They have also termed the ongoing construction of a mosque on the bank of the pond a threat as it would block sunlight which is must for the turtles.
During a visit to the shrine, workers were seen busy with hammer and nails to construct a four-storey mosque on the bank of the pond. Several concrete pillars have been erected on the bank and in the middle of the pond.
Earlier, twice in 2008 and 2012, the shrine authorities had to abandon their attempts to construct the building amid protests from environmentalists.
In May 2012, the HC stayed construction of buildings on the banks of the pond following a writ petition by Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association.
Amid protests, the shrine management committee later stopped the construction and the government formed a four-member committee to prepare a design for planned expansion and development of the shrine.
In 2008 the shrine authorities engaged a property developer to renew the shabby shrine mosque and construct a seven-storey shopping complex.
Makeshift and permanent shops as well as a three-storey shopping centre have been set up next to the shrine in the last 10 years.
The shrine motowali (head), Khurshid Chowdhury, said there were no more obstacles to constructing the mosque and it would do no harm to the turtles.
Whereas Chittagong University zoology associate professor Manzoorul Kibria said that if they constructed four-storey building, it would block sunlight causing severe deterioration of the pond’s water quality which ultimately would cause fungal infection of the turtles.
‘Already the hatching rate of the turtles is decreasing,’ he warned.
According to the Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Department statistics, 90 turtles were hatched in 2007, 74 in 2008, 96 in 2009, 28 in 2010, 45 in 2012, 40 in 2014, 18 in 2015, 26 in 2016 and only 10 in 2017.
‘It is very alarming. This is the sign of extinction of this wildlife, so the authorities concerned need to take initiative to save this rare species,’ Professor Kibria noted.
In 2003 miscreants poisoned the pond water and following it the authorities changed the water when they found a total 700 turtles. Now there are approximately 500 turtles, said shrine staff.
However, Farid Ahsan, a zoology professor of Chittagong University, who studied this turtle, in his 1984 survey, recorded around 320 turtles in the shrine pond.
Though the wildlife management division is providing support to the turtles breeding programme, forest officials said there was no ‘instruction’ and ‘budget’ to protect the endangered species.
SM Golam Mowla, divisional forest officer said, ‘We only monitor the breeding programme and annually enlist the number of eggs of Bostami turtles.’
Mowla added that the government had no allocation to save the turtles.
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