Rapid habitat loss threatens wildlife

Sadiqur Rahman | Published: 02:00, Nov 09,2018

 
 

A herd of spotted dear takes rest in the Sunderbans. — Sony Ramany

Rapid industrialisation coupled with unplanned urbanisation encroaching on forest and wetlands has been wiping out wild animals and birds from their habitats in Bangladesh.
Besides, the government’s negligence in wildlife conservation is expediting the extinction of the already threatened species.
Monirul H Khan, eminent wildlife expert and zoology professor at Jahangirnagar University, has told New Age that wildlife of Bangladesh are facing habitat loss and people’s hostile attitude.
He points out that rapid deforestation to make room for human habitation as well as conversion of forest and wetlands for commercial activities are causing wildlife’s habitat loss.
Lax enforcement of law despite several government policies rendered government efforts to protect the wild animals ineffective.
In 2016, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Department of Forests published a seven-volume exhaustive report on the assessment of 1,619 indigenous animal species, including seven groups of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, freshwater fishes, crustaceans and butterflies.
IUCN placed 390 animal species of the country on its red list of threatened species. The IUCN report categorised 56 of the threatened species critically endangered, 181 as endangered and 153 as vulnerable.
Out of 390 threatened species, the government took conservation action plan only for four species namely Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gharial and white-ramped vulture.
Of the 1,619 species, 278 were categorised as data-deficient, which offered insufficient information for a proper assessment of conservation status to be made.
However, the government took no steps until date to conduct research on the data-deficient species despite recommendations of biologists.
Professor Mohammad Mostafa Feeroz, who led the mammals’ status evaluation team of IUCN red list, suggests that the authorities should take conservation action plans for 47 threatened mammals otter, clouded leopard, hoolock gibbon, langur, pangolin and macaque other than tiger and elephant.
Ever-expanding human settlement on trails is fragmenting and destroying the habitats of elephants, the already threatened species in the country, thus causing human-elephant casualties.
DoF officials have observed that the tolls of human and elephant casualties increased amid a large part of elephant ranges being allocated as shelters to the Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Myanmar as well as brought under crop cultivation projects.
The government allocated 3,000 acres of forestlands at Ukhia of Cox’s Bazar, entirely on the elephant trails, for sheltering over seven lakh Rohingyas.
Human-elephant conflict was very common in the Sherpur district of the country sharing border with India’s Meghalaya province, a prominent shelter for the Asian elephant.
Asian elephants often occur in the country’s Cox’s Bazar, Sherpur, Bandarban and Moulavibazar districts.
Since 2011, around 140 people were trampled by wild elephants and in the last two decades, tolls of wild elephant rose to 98, said DoF officials.
Professor Monwar Hossain, the lead assessor for butterflies said that habitat loss posed the main threat to breeding for almost 80 per cent of the butterflies, especially the critically endangered Sundarban Crow.
Severe air and water pollution caused by industrial activities in and around the Sunderbans together with habitat loss pose serious threats to honeybees and butterflies, said Dhaka University zoology professor MA Bashar working on the spot.
He warned that reproductive and immune capacities of all the plant species in the Sunderbans would fall sharply as pollination of the major plant species including Sundri, Keora and Geoa is intensely dependent on the Sunderban honeybees.
A recent survey done by the government shows that 822 trips were made by mother vessels using the Passur and the Shela channels, passing through the Sunderbans in fiscal 2014-15 up from 540 in 2010-11.
In fiscal 2014-15, found the survey 4,710 other trips were made by vessels under the purview of Bangladesh-India Inland Water Transit Protocol increasing from 4,168 trips in 2010-11.
In fiscal 2014-15, it shows, 4,778 trips were made by lighter vessels, but no records of previous years’ trips were available.
On August 6 of 2017, National Environmental Committee gave antedated approval to 304 industries that were set up near the Sunderbans since the late 1990s.
On the same date, the environmental committee gave approval for setting up 16 more industries including a liquid bottling plant, which is categorised as ‘Red,’ which is ‘extremely harmful’.
Environmentalists and wildlife experts have expressed serious concern about the existence of Sunderbans ecosystem as unplanned industrialisation at Mongla and Rampal in Bagerhat was putting disastrous impacts on the habitats and food cycle of the mangroves’ flora and fauna.
A latest study, led by Khulna University’s environmental science discipline professor Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, finds poor presence of phytoplankton, zooplankton and benthos, three primary producers of wildlife’s food chain, due to pollution in the Sunderbans’ water, soil and air.
Harun led a seven-member research team to research in and around the Sunderbans, including Gharial, Jarshing, Kalagachia and the River Passur and connecting canals.
The study, conducted during July 2015 and June 2017, found insignificant occurrence of matured plant and animal species surrounding the industrial plots near the Sunderbans.
In the polluted areas, the team found poor presence of eggs and hatchlings of commercially valuable fishes like Parshe, Khorsula and Bagda shrimp in per litre of water.
The study also found dwindling presence of mud-skippers, mud crabs, frogs, snakes, monitor lizards, otter and fishing cat in the intertidal zones of the Sunderbans.
Mustafa Ali Reza Hossain, who was the lead assessor for the IUCN red list of crustaceans, said that unabated water pollution due to rampant use of pesticides and toxic waste dumping were destroying the habitats of shrimps, crabs, lobsters and the other crustaceans.
The study, led by Harun, said that regeneration of Sundari trees, population and habitats of intertidal zone birds, including the worldwide endangered bird Masked Finfoot, common birds, dolphins, crocodile, deer, wild boar and tigers were affected by the industrialised zone near the Sunderbans.
He said that due to continuous changes in the quality of air, water and soil by industrialisation, only three Royal Bengal Tigers’ pug-marks were observed in the industrialised sites of the forest while a previous study in 2010 found 12 tigers’ pug-marks in the same study area.
Blaming shipment of raw materials and construction materials for the ongoing industrial projects through the Sunderbans waterways, Harun said that wildlife migration from the industrialised zone was evident.
Appearance of waterbirds fell sharply in the country’s coastal belt over the last year, according the latest coastal bird census carried out at Bhola and Noakhali in January.
The census was jointly carried out by IUCN, DoF Bangladesh Bird Club, Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project and Prokriti o Jibon Foundation.
During the latest census, surveyors counted 26,525 individual waterbirds of 57 species down from 41,045 in January 2017.
At least six of the waterbird species were, at different times, declared as globally and locally threatened species.
During the census, a lone Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a critically endangered species, was seen at Char Ganguria, Noakhali.
Habitat loss is the primary cause for the sharp decline in waterbird population, said IUCN senior programme officer ABM Sarowar Alom who was also a member of the census team.
Obaidul Haque, president of Bangladesh Bird Club, said that transformation of the newly formed shoals in the coastal belt into grazing ground for cattle posed habitat threats to the waterbirds.
Studies using remote-sensing technology by local and foreign agencies have found conversion of forests to agriculture and scrub land, which indicates inconsiderate felling of trees, citing the government’s negligence in protecting wildlife habitats.
Lax implementation of forest laws, insufficient demarcation of forest boundaries, non-sustainable forest management and growing demand of land for industrial and infrastructural development were the major drivers of rampant deforestation.
Dense forests and open forests occupied 51.3 per cent and 48.7 per cent respectively of total forest area of the country in 1975.
India’s National Remote Sensing Centre scientist C Sudhakar Reddy-led study ‘Development of National Database on Long-Term Deforestation 1930-2014 in Bangladesh’ recently revealed that the ratio changed in 2014 with dense forests at 46 per cent and open forest at 53 per cent.
The study revealed that the highest rate of forest coverage loss in Chittagong region’s hill forests and the Saal forest range of Madhupur in Tangail.
Another study ‘Comprehensive monitoring of Bangladesh tree cover inside and outside of forests 2000-2014’ revealed that tree cover loss area almost doubled from 2001 to 2006.
Environmental Research Letter published the wall-to-wall mapping and sample-based study in October 2017.
A DoF assessment in October 2017 showed that 25 per cent of deforested areas were converted to agriculture and about 58 per cent to scrub land during 1975 and 2014.
Former chief conservator of forest Md Yunus Ali blamed lack of good governance for the rapid degradation of forest.
Currently, there are 44,96,248.29 acres of reserved forests in the country.
DoF officials admitted that reserved forests protection goals could not be achieved as the reserved forests were not demarcated and shortage of forest guards.

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