We do not know exactly how Hitchcock would have viewed the current trend in Bangladesh of making nests for wild birds. The great movie-maker became famous for his scary film The Birds. Thanks to his offbeat portrayal of birds in the film, many during the 1960s began calling the director a bird-hater. In the film birds are shown as ferocious creatures who unleash a reign of terror in a peaceful neighbourhood. Alfred Hitchcock, belonging to the genre of psychopathic exploits and suspense, viewed birds in his unique way.
Given this uncommon outlook, one cannot be blamed for his or her observations: Hitchcock might have felt troubled seeing the trend of making artificial nests for birds taking root in this country. Bangladesh has never been known as a great bird-loving country. Rather, hunting of birds in its swamps and forests has travelled through the ages to the present day as a popular vocation. Meat of wild birds is considered a delicacy in the country. Migratory birds selling in city roads in defiance of prohibitory laws are a common spectacle. Against this grim backdrop, a section of people engaged in ensuring birds' safety does appear out of place. Over the last 10-12 years, people, especially youths, in greater numbers have been seen placing specially designed pitchers in trees. Those are meant for attracting wild birds to areas long hostile to them. In a country where trees are felled rampantly, river banks are encroached on with reckless abandon and many wildlife species have gone extinct due to hunting, the initiatives to care about birds carry contents of incredulity. Yet with the practice becoming a passion, this has emerged as a widely visible reality in our mostly insensitive society.
Nature conservation or wildlife protection does not attract much of the people's attention in this country. Let's begin with forests, an essential component of the ideal ecological make-up that allows a country to survive sustainably. In a standard condition, a country should have woodlands having the size of 25 per cent of its area. Bangladesh in the past used to boast of having this ideal forest-coverage. It's now an old story that tells about how mindlessly sections of people have destroyed the country's lush forests. After the decades-long rampage unleashed on the naturally grown forests, the country now has a paltry 10 per cent forest area. However, the situation is improving. Alongside government initiatives, people at individual level are increasingly found engaged in social forestry.
Compared to the times two decades ago, the environment scenario is quite encouraging these days. Ironically, environmental activism is found to be stronger and more widespread in the country's rural areas. While people are found gleefully buying migratory birds in the roads of the capital and other cities, many enlightened villagers organise resistance to this practice. They try to make illiterate rural people aware of the necessity of protecting these overseas birds, which fly thousands of kilometres from the cold regions to temperate countries like Bangladesh. The village people may not be expected to understand complex issues like preservation of biodiversity; but they could be impressed upon that these birds fly into Bangladesh to shelter from the biting cold in their native countries. Given the rampant anti-environment activities in the urban pockets, the spectacle found in villages is comforting, if not a perfect one. Barring the isolated incidents of trapping migratory birds, these creatures are largely safe in the remote villages nowadays.
During winter, migratory birds are found these days safely sheltered in the country's water bodies of 'haors' and 'beels'. A decade ago, designated sanctuaries for migratory birds would be dismissed as an absurd idea. In the recent times, scores of these water bodies are found filled with the chirrup of overseas guest birds along with their carefree frolicking for around three months every year. Apart from those on the city outskirts, many of these sanctuaries are located in inaccessible areas. That's good news for wildlife activists. In the earlier days, hunters would swoop on bird shelters in hordes. The overall scene has undergone a change. The hunters could largely be prevented from entering the 'protected' areas. Thanks to the relentless campaigns by local environmental activists, migratory birds have begun returning to Bangladesh. Due to the reckless killing and catching of the birds, their arrivals at one point witnessed a sharp decline. It's the countrywide public advocacy programmes by wildlife protection groups that have resulted in the return of these birds to the country's swamps. However, government agencies responsible for protection of ecological balance are also occasionally found saving wild animals and birds that stray into localities. To cite recent instances, one can mention the saving of a number of the near-extinct vultures from the ignorant mob in a village a couple of weeks ago.
Rescuing countless other birds and animals from frenzied enthusiasm of villagers has also become a normal feature in rural areas. It is the village youths who play the critical role in making environment-related programmes successful in the country at present. It is baffling to watch rural youths stand by the suffering humanity and nature with more eagerness than that shown by their urban counterparts. According to experts dealing with social and community behaviour, this tendency has a lot to do with the former's proximity with the elements that make up the environment. It's also true that the erosion of socio-moral values has lately been characterising sizeable numbers of rural youths. Yet these mostly disadvantaged youths also nurture dreams, dreams that would not let them shift their focus from the tasks deemed urgent for a secure collective future.
Owing to the impediments standing in the way of its desired social acceptance, environmental activism has yet to find a firm footing in Bangladesh. There is no dearth of spirit and sincerity. What besets the youth-centred missions is the lack of adequate support from the state establishments. Ventures like protecting the environment and biodiversity demand collective resolve and strength. Making nests for birds in one's locality can be regarded as a hobby. But with the participation of many like-minded youths, it has the prospects for becoming a movement. On the social plain, this primarily unique movement can also be stretched to the fields of greater spheres of environment. Given the rising popularity of nest-making among the rural youths, a lot of other such humble ventures may get off the ground. Focus on birds in a land of vanishing forests carries a potent symbolic value: the country is desperately in need of energetic and committed youths. Much bigger tasks await their intervention. From afforestation to stopping every kind of encroachment to sensitising people to the imperative of literacy and the knowledge of hygiene ---- all such advocacies prove successful with the involvement of youths.
Lofty tasks are not smooth. Hurdles stand in their way. Indomitableness of the young helps them overcome roadblocks. Making nests for birds and placing them on tree branches might invite derision for the youths from certain quarters; but those committed to their goal are never swept away by emotion.
It's a matter of national importance that the Bangladesh society has started to become aware of its environment-related vulnerabilities. A section of the country's youths have realised that it cannot afford to belittle conservation of nature. Unlike those in the cities, the rural youths do not seem to believe in banal rituals. They are proving their sincere intent to protect the environment by swinging into action. Given the ecological vulnerabilities the country is exposed to, mere expression of solidarity may be counter-productive.