The Financial Express

Saving the wildlife-rich forests

| Updated: July 04, 2021 14:04:04

Saving the wildlife-rich forests

On the highways in many forest-rich states in the vast USA, the persons at the wheel have to remain alert to the possibility of running over animals crossing a road. In spite of their alertness, every year hundreds of small and mid-size animals get injured or killed on being hit by speeding motor vehicles. A driver cannot be expected to remain always prepared to skirt a rabbit or a fox as it scurries acrossa road. Yet there are provisions for various types of fines for the errant persons. This and other deterrents do not work in the sparsely populated areas. A section of truck and other heavy vehicle operators allegedly do not bother to slow down to allow the animals to safely cross the roads.

Notwithstanding such aberrant behaviour, the US highway drivers in general are known to be empathetic to the various wildlife species --- many of them belonging to the group of the endangered. Large pythons are considered a vulnerable invertebrate, alongside various species of deer, wild mice and squirrels. In spite of this mixed state of animals on the roads cutting through dense woodlands, the US animals are recognised as safer than those in many countries. Compared to the US spectacle, the animals inhabiting Bangladesh forests with busy roads running through them are perennially exposed to myriad hazards --- lots of them fatal. Except the coastal mangrove forest of the Sundarbans and those of Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) with few concrete roads running through them, almost all mid- to large-size forests accommodate regional highways. In this context, the Moulvibazar area in the greater Sylhet stands out with its wildlife-hostile condition. The place in focus is the Lawacchara Forest.

A 5-kilometre segment of the Dhaka-Sylhet railway route goes through the forest. Besides, the 6.5km Sreemangal-Kamalganj Road cuts through it. Recently, construction of an alternative road link using a different route has been proposed. The project proposal has been undertaken to avert the forest segment. To the dismay of wildlife conservationists and environmental groups, the proposal has yet to get the policymakers' initial nod. The physical harm done to the forest's small and large animal species has long led to a sharp decline in their numbers. The most alarming aspect of the mass-scale thinning-out of the Lawacchara reserve forest is the unabated depletion of a lot of rare species of animals. It's renowned for a marvelously rich colony of rare primates. This forest plays a critical role in preserving the country's biodiversity and keeping its ecological balance. The country's inherently wildlife-rich areas were once dominated by the Modhupur forest in Tangail. Now on the verge of disappearance, thanks to encroachment by the locals, and the indiscriminate hunting of wild animals, the forest is no more a treasure-trove of various kinds of animals. But it once was, in the fullest sense of the term.

Apart from rhesusmonkeys, jackals, rabbits, snakes, wild cats etc, the sprawling forest was also a habitat of rhinos.Except over a hundred Royal Bengal Tigers, spotted deer and monkeys, crocodiles and snakes, the Sundarbans have been depleted of its rich wildlife. The remainder comprises mainly birds. The interiors of three CHT districts and the northern areas of Netrakona and Jamalpur occasionally confront herds of wild elephants. They arrive in Bangladesh from the north-eastern districts of India. Against this backdrop, Moulvibazar'sLawachhara forest deserves a special place among the country's rich spots nurturing different wildlife species.    

The very concept of taking a railway route through an ecologically sensitive forest was wrong. No matter which quarters had been behind this project, they had done much harm to the country's biodiversity and plant life. It warrants a remedial intervention; and the sooner the better.

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