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SOS Rhino : In the News : Our endangered wildlife

Our endangered wildlife

  The New Nation ∆ Bangladesh
By Khasru Chowdhury
May 17, 2004, 12:37

IN the context of environmental wealth, Bangladesh may be considered lucky yet unfortunate. This is because Bangladesh lies on the boundary of two resourceful regions-the Indo Malayan and Indo Himalayan zone according to the zoogeographic division. On top of that, three large rivers, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna flow through the country and into the Bay of Bengal, creating a huge low basin. As a result, there is an extraordinary variety of trees, soil, animals and even humans. For the last 100 years, however, we have multiplied the human population at the expense of biodiversity. Our only solace is, we are following the track of our predecessors. Neighbouring countries later played a big-role in ruining nature. We like to blame others for our misfortune. Whatever the excuse, the case is worth investigating.

In the early period of the nineteenth century, there was an equivalence of population and forest area despite massive rice cultivation in the eastern regions. Though Sylhet and Chittagong were transformed into agricultural land and teak trees were planted to make up for the deforestation, the entire Chittagong Hill Tracts remained a forest. A variety of animals including leopard, boar, common palm civet, small Indian civet, clouded leopard, leopard cat, wildcat, mouse deer and jackal along with many reptiles, amphibians and birds lived in the forest. Tigers were scattered in different areas of Chittagong, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Bogra, Rangpur, Barisal and Jessore. Deforestation in east Bengal began with the construction of railway tracks. More forest area was destroyed during the First World War. People began settling in these forest corridors. Large wild animals move around high or low lands with the change of season. Sometimes, they move to a different territory. Because people started inhabiting and cultivating along these abandoned paths, the wild animals were forced to attack localities and damage agricultural land. The government supplied firearms to the affluent farmers to keep away the wild boar and other animals initiating a festival of slaughtering wildlife. The hunting festival began. British officials, landlords, the middle and upper class hunted forest animals and deprived the ponds and lakes of fish. Many wounded elephants became mad and tigers became man-eaters. Killing of these 'mad' elephants and man-eaters became the height of courage and bravery. This situation continued till the 20th century. Then started jute cultivation. As a cash crop, a huge quantity was required for the mills and deforestation resumed to fulfill the demand for cultivable land. Biodiversity was sacrificed for the Golden Thread The jungle linking corridors were destroyed and so were the villages. Readers can find more information relating to this devastation in the books by hunter Abdur Rahman Chaudhury, zaminder of Muktagacha Jagatkishor Acharya Chaudhury, Bayezid Khan Panni and Yusuf S Ahmed. Both the British government and upcoming local feudal and political leaders were least bothered about the damage and loss of trees.

Larger forest areas were destroyed during the Second World War. More land and wood were required for development. Deforestation was completed with the spread of famine. Roads and highways were built and trees uprooted, being carried by elephants and transported by trucks. Smugglers joined the government in trading wood. Forests became barren and the people depended on the jungle became labourers. Wild animals lost their habitat and were hunted by people. Their meat was served for supper and their stuffed skins used in decorating living rooms.

Apart from a few British officers, nobody was concerned about the loss of wildlife in the country

In the beginning of 40s. speculation began that India would be divided and both states would become independent. This was evident during the Second World War. In India the Congress and in Pakistan the Muslim League would become the government as these parties took a lead in the ensuing politics. Their leadership had certain things in common. Both the parties were formed with the support of the British ruler. With time Congress developed a nationalist character and to counterbalance it, the Muslim League was formed. Both the parties recruited feudal landowners as leaders. Later on, when the two parties .succeeded in negotiations, the leadership was transferred to the lawyers and they then served as local leaders. In 1947, when the two countries became independent, the lawyers took over. Barristers were greatly valued and respected in the political arena. Common people failed to comprehend the servility of the solicitors. In Pakistan and especially in East Pakistan, they became the slaves of Pakistani rulers.

For votes they would appeal to the general public, but after election they would be engrossed in pleasing the Pakistani rulers. These counselors became the country's policy-makers. At that time in East Pakistan, 95% of the people were from the rural areas and they were underprivileged. The new rulers continued making cities and roads. Unplanned river dams, hydro-electricity dams, brick-kilns and new houses were built at the expense of biodiversity.

The rulers and as well as the opposition party did not have any idea of the capacity and power of the population. They were ignorant about the necessity of forestry, supply of sweet water, biodiversity and ecological balance for a healthy locality.

During the middle of 1950s, the privileged class took over the political power, being supported by America. In order to grow more crops and hence extend cultivable land, PL 480 initiated a fresh process of deforestation. Import of nitrogen mixed chemical fertiliser started along with the dangerous poison 'Endrin' which was banned in America. It played havoc with our ecological balance and led to another famine in Bangladesh. The Endrin affected plants and trees, insects and reptiles like an atomic bomb. Out of enmity, antisocial people used the poison to kill cattle, livestock and fish belonging to their rivals and housewives 'used' it to 'commit suicide'. Many birds died, feeding on the insects killed by Endrin. Their offspring emerged malnourished from the eggshells and breeding was also hampered. Nitrogen fertiliser used in the soil, were washed into rivers, ponds, lakes and haors during monsoon. Fish and other aquatic resources were badly affected by the poisonous chemical. At the same time, omnivorous

American catfish and quick growing plants, which absorb surface water, were imported and introduced in our water bodies. With the installation of deep tubewells, poisonous arsenic water was pumped out.

While the rest of the world focused on growing food in an organic way, we continued using chemical fertilisers. We have no other option; our population is 950 people per square mile, and the prescription for our relief comes from the World Bank, IMF and ADB.

In this crisis, Pakistan responded to an appeal by World Wildlife Foundation. Professor Lehusen organised for WWF to send a group to East Pakistan for spot investigation. The renowned wildlife author Guy Mountcourt led the team. He was accompanied by John Buxton, photographer Eric Hoskins, George Shannon and other wildlife experts. They came to East Pakistan twice in 1969. The group went to Sundarban first and on the second visit, went to the forest in Chittagong Hill Tracts and the forest and haor areas in Sylhet. The experts observed the animals, especially birds. They prepared a documentary entitled "The Vanishing Jungle". Mountcourt had stayed in these places during the Second World War and he compared the ecological situation of the two periods in his book. At that time, a branch office of WWF was opened in Pakistan, but unfortunately, we have no such branch office of this internationally reputed organisation in our country.

In the middle of 20th century, we lost the vast area of grass jungle or the wetlands of the Ganges, Jamuna and Brahmaputra basin. The wetlands were an ideal habitat for elephants, rhinoceros, wild buffaloes, as well as a variety of deer including barasingha, mouse deer and others. Other animals could also inhabit these wetlands and included tiger, leopard, boar, leopard cat, hyena, hedgehog, mongoose, wild cat and similar animals. A variety of snakes and reptiles could breed in these grounds. While for birds this was heaven. The forestland stretched from Assam to Sundarban and gave shelter to Asian unicorn and Javan rhinoceros, barasingha, wild buffalo, pygmy boar, hispid rabbit, bison, sweet-water crocodile and many others. The forest was destroyed in 20th century in order to spare land for crops and indigo cultivation. As a result, the wildlife was endangered and many animals became extinct. There was a sal tree forest in the beginning of 21st century extending from Dinajpur to Bhawal Estate. Although the salforest was not abundant in wildlife, but a variety of animals were found including boar, bison, deer, leopards, tigers, wild cats, monkeys, squirrels, peacocks and many other birds. The jungle in the northern region has disappeared and exists only as a sign in Madhupur and Sripur in Bhawal. Much of our wildlife has been lost forever.


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