A cross-section of people share their views with New Age Staff Correspondent Sadiqur Rahman about wildlife conservation
ASM Jahir Uddin Akon
Dhaka divisional forest officer, wildlife management and nature conservation circle
The government has taken some remarkable initiatives for the conservation of forest and wildlife — Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act 2012 has been enacted, at least 41 wildlife sanctuaries have been declared as reserved forests, the Department of Forest has distributed duties among its six divisional offices while creating wildlife management and nature conservation circles.
DoF’s wildlife crime control unit comprising wildlife inspectors, forest guards, personnel of the Rapid Action Battalion, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Guard of Bangladesh has been formed to check poaching and trafficking of wildlife. Two safari parks have been set up in the country for the protection of Ex-situ and In-situ wildlife.
Five wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres have been established in the country so that injured wild animals can get veterinary treatment. To enrich knowledge of forest and wildlife as well as facilitate research, the government has recently inaugurated Shiekh Kamal Wildlife Centre in Gazipur. The centre will serve as a centre of excellence.
Sometimes, people living near a forest are attacked by wild animals. The victim family can get compensated by the government. Conflicts among human and wild animal bring negative results for both.
As we know that wildlife and their ecosystem along with food chain are the integral part of forest and nature, mutual coexistence between humans and wildlife must be maintained for the conservation of the ecosystem.
DoF along with some development partners is implementing many conservation campaigns and projects to engage community people so that human-wild animal conflicts reduce.
ABM Sarowar Alom
Senior progamme officer, IUCN
Forest coverage of Bangladesh is now limited to some particular zones which are also facing huge pressure due to deforestation. Forests are now in some pockets such as the Sunderbans, Chattogram Hill Tracts and Moulavibazar areas. Growing human population and the demand for land for their habitation are causing rapid loss of wild animals’ habitat. The wild animals are also facing acute food shortage.
People’s hostile attitude towards animal has intensified threats to wildlife. For example, fisher folks apply poisons in the creeks and canals of the Sunderbans to catch fish. The poisons eventually contaminate the water in which other floral and faunal species of the mangrove live.
Although sport hunting is checked, poaching and illegal trade of wild animal are still going on. IUCN with some projects is working to engage local community people with wildlife conservation. Community involvement through creating alternative earning source will lessen their dependence on forest resources.
IUCN is so much involved in conservation of the endangered animals like Bengal tiger, Asian Elephant, gharial, vulture, turtle and birds in Bangladesh.
The positive thing is that Bangladesh, compared with other Asian countries, is still a better place for wildlife breeding. Despite many threats, this is evident that many rare animals still can survive in the country as its weather is congenial for wildlife living.
The government has enacted Wildlife Conservation Act 2012, which is very strict about wildlife-related crimes. So far, 41 forests have been declared reserved for wildlife protection. Proper implementation of the law and forest management could bring some positive results for the shrinking wildlife.
Sayam U Chowdhury
Birds in Bangladesh face a wide variety of threats including habitat loss, large-scale development, illegal hunting and use of harmful pesticide.
Different bird habitats face different issues, for example our forest birds are mainly threatened due to the forest degradation and small-scale hunting (mainly in Chittagong Hill Tracts).
Our freshwater wetland birds face the threat of habitat fragmentation, encroachment, hunting and large-scale commercial fisheries. Development and illegal hunting mainly threaten our coastal birds. Our riverine birds also face similar threats like the freshwater wetland birds but there are also agricultural encroachments.
Our common birds in homestead forests and agricultural lands are possibly facing an invisible issue of using harmful pesticides.
The authorities concerned can protect these habitats by planning large-scale development (like deep sea port, power plants etc.) more wisely and leaving important bird habitats such as mudflats and intertidal islands in the coastal area. This can be achieved by designating bird sanctuaries and protected areas.
Similar conservation measures can be taken for our freshwater wetland and riverine birds. In both areas, local communities need to be educated on sustainable use of natural resources. More riverine (currently there is none) and freshwater sanctuaries need to be identified and designated as protected areas.
In order to protect forest of Bangladesh and thus forest birds, Bangladesh Forest Department can declare more protected areas, where no-tree-felling policy will be applied. The forest department will also need more manpower as currently they are extremely underequipped to protect forests.
There is a huge gap in our understanding of how the current usage of pesticides are harming our resident birds, this needs to be investigated and a strict policy framework on pesticide usage also needs to be developed.
In order to control illegal hunting, local communities need to be well informed so that they can work closely with the authorities concerned to protect both migratory and resident birds.
Wildlife inspector, Department of Forest
Poachers commonly prey on birds like myna, parakeet, heron, swamphen, munia, dove and migratory birds. Among the wild animals, gecko, turtle, fishing cat, monkey, deer, mongoose and others are often poached for illegal export.
Among the reasons behind illegal animal trade and poaching is lack of people’s awareness about wildlife conservation. Bird poachers are mostly poor and they do not have to invest much in this illegal business. They can catch the wild animals easily in the forest. The illegal animal traders can earn money without much effort.
Most importantly, there is a huge market of wild animal and birds in the domestic and international arena. Many people like to rear wild animals as pets. People lacking awareness about Wildlife Conservation Act 2012 do not bother about the legal consequences of poaching, trading and rearing wild animals.
I think more publicity of the wildlife conservation law may help rise people’s awareness. Common people must know that only wild environment suits the wild animals.
Textbook contents for children with information on wild animals and their congenial habitation, most importantly the need for healthy ecosystem and biodiversity, will be crucial.
Besides, poachers and illegal wild animal traders must be brought to book. If they are tried for violating the law, new enterprise will not grow.
For the assessment of wildlife in Bangladesh under the IUCN Red List project, I visited the Sunderbans, Khulna, Sathkhira, shoals of coastal districts, three Chattogram hill districts, Cox’s Bazaar and Moulavibazar.
Data collection for the project was done between December 2013 and December 2015. We were divided in seven groups and I worked with the butterfly, fish and crustacean assessment groups.
During the data collection, we could not gather information about more than 250 species which we had categorised as data-deficient. May be the species still exist in the environment or not. We recommended thorough research on the data-deficient category species to know about their present status. May be the species need special project for their regeneration.
We found that habitat loss was the major threat to the wildlife. Butterflies are losing their habitats every day because of bush cleansing before development works like construction of homes, communication facilities and other concrete establishments.
Rampant water pollution is another reason for the dwindling population of butterflies because they are highly sensitive to polluted water.
We also found that fishes and crustaceans were facing habitat loss. Water bodies dry out due to drought during the summer as well as shrinking connectivity following withdrawal of water flow. Fish and crustacean cannot ooze properly. There regeneration is now under threat.
Besides, the shortage of water bodies, water contamination with pollutants accelerates destruction of aquatic habitats. Due to poor management of toxic waste, water and shore of the water bodies become polluted, affecting zooplanktons. Harming the primary source of animal’s food cycle will certainly affect others. For example, if the insects disappear, frogs would suffer from food shortage. Snake would also be affected when frogs become extinct.
Although there are concerns about climate change, I think human-made causes affect the wild animals most.
There are many critically endangered animal and bird species. If they are facing continuous habitat loss, they will be extinct regionally within the next 10-15 years. The Red List team identified hotspots of the endangered animals. Now the government should take special conservation projects along with widening forest reservation to check deforestation. Waste management in the urban cities is also crucial to conserve the aquatic lives.
I think general people are getting aware of wildlife conservation day by day. But this is not enough as the population of wild animals and birds of Bangladesh is dwindling rapidly.
In the last four years of my photography, I have observed that many bird species are disappearing from the vast green field in village Shyamlasi, neighbouring Keraniganj and Savar due to rapid human habitation. More than 60 bird species used to be found there even two years back. Ever shrinking grasslands and tree coverage badly affect habitation of the chestnut munia, Indian silverbill, tri-coloured munia, striated grass bird, plaintive cuckoo and many more.
Yellow-footed green pigeon, coppersmith barbet, rose-ringed parakeet, wryneck, hoopoe, black-winged kite have almost disappeared from the rural Dhaka due to deforestation.
When we do group visit for photography to the rural areas, local people often ask whether we are for hunting birds. It means bird hunting is still going on in the areas. According to local people, munia and parakeet are common prey for sport hunters. Besides, population of herons and migratory birds is decreasing due to poaching by meat traders.
In the recent time, wildlife photography is gaining popularity. Many emerging photographers are coming forward to develop this genre. Those who are working in this field can also take the responsibility of awareness building among local people. They can talk about the environmental impacts of dwindling bird population. A group of professional can change the mindset of the people who are unaware about biodiversity conservation.
Most often, I see that amateur photographers unintentionally destroy bird nest or other wildlife habitats while doing photography. Sometimes they litter things on the wildlife trails. I think people coming forward to work on wildlife issues should first change their negative attitude.
Q M Monzur Kader Chowdhury
Veterinary doctor and former president of Pradhikar
Pradhikar, a non-profitable, voluntary student’s organisation of Sylhet Agricultural University, started its journey on June 5, 2012 during celebration of World Environment Day with a mission to raise awareness among people about animal rights. The team also works for biodiversity conservation.
We already have rescued hundreds of wild animals and organised awareness raising school campaigns, seminars, workshops and awareness raising rally with the help of community and authorities concerned.
Most of the members have knowledge of veterinary science, which is an advantage in handling, treatment, care and management of injured wildlife.
Our city, Sylhet, is a biodiversity-rich area though conservation of nature has always been at stake here. When I started my university life at Sylhet Agricultural University in 2014, I joined ‘Pradhikar’.
It was an evening of 2014. Just after the classes were finished at 5:00pm, I received a phone call about rescuing a wild animal. It was my initiation in volunteering but then I did not find any team mate to go with me in the rescue work.
I felt the need to build a network of community and forest department and started the work that very day. At that moment, the organisation’s first committee had expired and the second committee’s board members had gone into hibernation.
I tried to make them active but failed and started to look for new members. I revived the organisation and started to work with community. Transformational leadership made us a family and tried to change the view of our community about environment and animal’s pain.
The change started within the community as they would often inform us if they saw any injured animals. The job was challenging but our ideas and enthusiasm solved all.
Collaborating with community people, we protested at the decisions of policy makers which we considered would go against biodiversity. Veterinary science knowledge and article writing skills helped me become a young leader in my community as a protector of biodiversity as well as animals.
My team is maintaining this network with BAPA, Bhumisontan Bangladesh, Green Explore Society and forest department that I had built. Though I now hold no position of the organisation, I am an evergreen member of it.
In recognition of my work, I was awarded ‘Save the Frogs Day best organiser Award 2016’, ‘Joy Bangla Youth Award 2017’ and ‘Young Conservationist Award 2017’ for protecting wildlife as well as the environment and animals.
People these days are aware about protecting biodiversity. It is a silent revolutionary change.
Shah Rucksana Urmi
Former vice-president, Pradhikar
The first and foremost challenge for a volunteer in wildlife conservation is scarcity of fund.
Lots of initiatives go in vain for deficient financial support. We collect a monthly donation from our executive board members, which is our primary fund for initiating any programme.
In addition, support from the respective government authorities is not always available to implement the law of wildlife conservation and protection act.
On many occasions, when we rescued any animals, there was no support from anybody. It’s an auspicious moment for us that Wildlife Conservation Centre has started its activities although there is a huge lack of skilled persons.
Lack of skill and knowledge, incapacity in community management and inability to make prompt decisions are big problems in the way of wildlife conservation.
Besides, mistrust of community people and activities of wildlife traders are problems faced by the volunteers.
I think creating followers and leaders with vision is a major task as without this all initiative will go in vain.
I believe there will be a time when we will be able to save wild animals and ultimately save the planet’s biodiversity.
Relief actor, Cox’s Bazar
Since August last year, Rohingya people fleeing persecution in their homeland in Myanmar took shelter at Teknaf and adjacent areas of Cox’s Bazaar. The Rohingya people have cut down forest trees as well as earth of hillocks to build their shelter.
Most of the area was once full of trees sheltering varied wild animals and birds but now has become denuded as the Rohingya people collect firewood from the forest for their cooking.
The temporary Rohingya camps are posing habitat threats to the wildlife of the district’s forestland. Especially the mushrooming habitations are blocking years-old trails of the Asian elephant.
The wild elephants cannot move like they did before September of 2017. They are now cornered in the shrinking forestland and fail to forage, facing severe food crisis.
The Rohingya people have risked their lives as elephant herds following their ancient trails often ram into the temporary Rohingya shelters. Some people have already been killed by wild elephants.
The particular locality is inhabited by a number of ethnic minority people who think that survival of the wild animals and birds can save the environment as well as their habitat also.
They think that animals and birds are good friends of people. Hence the local people, concerned about wildlife conservation, fear that if the Rohingya camping continues for long, the wildlife of the area will disappear soon.
The overpopulation on the hills is also threatening to the ecosystem.
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