Regarding this, professor Monirul H Khan told Prothom Alo that cheetah comes in second place after Bengal Tiger among the eight species of cats in Bangladesh. Cheetah naturally likes to stay hidden and doesn’t appear in the locality unless it faces a food crisis. Conducting a census on them is difficult since they roam around in several forests spreading over vast areas of the country. However, there may be at least 50 cheetahs in Bangladesh now. Most of them live in the forest area bordering Bangladesh and India. If their habitats can’t be protected, they will leave this country, he added.
Killing, smuggling and crisis of habitats
The University of Dhaka, the University of Quebec, Canada, the forest department of Bangladesh and the Creative Conservation Alliance jointly conducted a research on marking cheetahs in the country. They also prepared an study on the kind, characteristics and consequence of cheetahs spotted in the country from 2002 to 2020. It showed that 22 cheetahs were seen during this time. Seven of them were beaten to death by villages and all the incidents took places in the country’s northern regions.
Of the animals, six were seen in Chattogram Hill Tracts, two in Cox’s Bazar. Four to six cheetahs were seen in the forests of Sylhet and Moulvibazar in various times.
The research teams observed that the cheetah population has been declining rapidly in the country mainly because no initiative was taken to protect the animal. Among the countries having a cheetah population, Bangladesh is the only country that has carried out no research on the habitats, protection strategy and characteristics of the animal.
However, 28 basic studies have been conducted on Bengal Tiger in Bangladesh. The government has spent more than Tk 1 billion (100 crore) in the past 12 years, but no specific measure has not been take to protect cheetah and other animals of the cat species as yet.
The research report took the reserved forest of Teknaf and Ukhiya of Cox’s Bazar as an example stating that once several cheetahs had been spotted in this forest. This was their habitat. Since a large portion of the forest was removed to build Rohingya camps, these cheetahs had no alternative but to leave the area.
Cheetahs often come to the districts located on the bank of Teesta river in the country’s northern area as there is significant population of this animal in the forestland on the upstream of Teesta in the Indian side. Sometimes, cheetahs come to Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari and Panchagarh crossing Indian territory. A cheetah was also spotted in Sherpur too. Cheetahs were attacked and killed by the locals in the northern regions. The cheetah that was spotted in Sherpur, however, managed to escape the attack of the local people.
Research say Bangladesh is used as one of transits for smuggling cheetah. Law enforcement agencies rescued five cheetahs from 2017 to 2019. All of them were African species. This cheetah has been extinct from Bangladesh and India. According to the observation of the international organisation working on the prevention of wildlife poaching, Traffic, Bangladesh is used as the transit for smuggling wild animals including cheetah to various countries in the world. Those rescued cheetahs were being smuggled from India to Thailand via Bangladesh.
Mustasir Akash, a member of the research team and teacher of zoology department at Dhaka University, told Prothom Alo that initiative will have to be taken urgently to save cheetah and animals of cat species in Bangladesh. Their population has been declining rapidly in Bangladesh. Most of the cheetahs that come to the locality from forest and bordering areas of the country can’t return alive since locals kill them. But cheetah is an animal that can adapt to any environment.
There are many cheetahs in a national park beside Mumbai city in India. They have prepared a management strategy and plan on how to save these animals. If a cheetah appears in the human habitat, there is an arrangement for sending the animal back to the forest, he added.
Cheetah roamed across country
According to the book ‘Bagh-Bon-Banduk’ (Tiger-forest-gun) by Muhammad Bayazeed Khan Panni published from Muktadhara in 1966, cheetah had been spotted in the most of the country’s forests and scrubland. Cheetah was often seen roaming around in Madhupur forest during the day. A number of cheetahs had also been spotted in Chattogram Hill Tracts, Sylhet, Mymensingh and Dhaka. Another book titled “Jokhon Shikari Chhilam” (When I was a hunter) by Enayet Mowla published by Shahitya Prakash in 1996 also described two incidents of killings cheetahs in Mirpur, Dhaka.
However, no study or survey has been carried out on the number of cheetahs in the country as yet. Rather, hanging the skin of a cheetah on the wall of the house after killing the animal was a symbol of aristocracy and bravery. Th drawing rooms of many zamindars and aristocrats displayed photos with them standing gun in hand and a foot on a dead cheetah.
The international collation of organisations working on nature conservation, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), published a list of threatened species in 2016. The cheetah of Bangladesh was listed as endangered in the list.
However, wildlife researchers said it is very difficult to find out the actual number of cheetah in the country. Unlike Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans where they left paw marks in the mud, cheetahs live in the hard soil areas of the country’s hill forests. Bengal Tigers roam freely in their living areas whereas cheetahs do not. Cheetahs like to stay in deep forest and their living area is vast. As a result, it is difficult to find out the actual number of cheetahs by capturing images through camera traps. However, if their habitats are protected and they are sent back to forest instead of getting killed upon being spotted in the locality, the situation may change.
Regarding this, conservator of the forests department’s Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle, Mihir Kumar Doe told Prothom Alo, “We are working to protect the entire ecosystem of the cheetah’s habitat so that all wildlife including cheetah are saved. We are also making people aware so that they don’t attack and kill a cheetah when the animal emerges in the villages.”
Global scenario of cheetah
Cheetah lives more or less in all countries in the world. However, the Indian subspecies of cheetah is the highest in South Asian countries. No survey on cheetah was carried out in the seven eastern states of India. Other than these states, according to the country’s forest department, there are about 1500 cheetah in India.
Other than these, there are 20-25 cheetahs in Myanmar, 15-20 cheetahs in Pakistan and about 10 cheetahs in Nepal. Forest departments of these countries have taken separate initiative to protect the cheetah. Many studies have been carried out on the characteristics and types of the cheetahs there.
Rare Indian black cheetah had been spotted in Bangladesh. Black cheetah was seen in Remakri and Alikadam of Bandarban in 1990s. However, it was no subspecies of cheetah. If the skin contains excessive amount of melanin, then a cheetah turns black. This black cheetah is usually seen in the deep forest of South Asia and East Asia. Black cheetah was spotted in Kaziranga forest of Assam and Rangamati of Bangladesh in 2020.
Besides Bengal Tiger and cheetah, there are other big cats including clouded leopard (gecho bagh), golden cat, fishing cat, jangle cat and marbled cat in Bangladesh. Clouded leopards usually rest in trees. They also come to the ground, can swim and are skilled at hunting fishes in water.
Chief executive officer of Creative Conservation Alliance, Shahriar Caesar Rahman told Prothom Alo that no animal of the cat species in Bangladesh attacks humans unless it senses danger and reacts in self-defence. But people beat them to death on sight out of fear. “Though there are provisions in the country’s wildlife conservation and security act for the trial of such killing, there is no enforcement.” People living in the surrounding area of the forests will have to be made aware about protecting cheetahs and the overall environment, he observed.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna