Endangered biodiversity

The rate of decline in biodiversity in Bangladesh is higher than that of the world. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, nearly 1.4 per cent of forests have been destroyed in the world in 2000-2015 while the figure was 2.6 per cent in Bangladesh. A 2019 report of the United Nations said, 12.5 per cent of the world’s 8 million (80 lakh) plant and animal species face extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 24 per cent of 1,619 animal species may extinct soon.

Due to reduction in the area of the Sundarbans, the number of plant species is decreasing. Sundari (heritierafomes), a species of mangrove tree, is decreasing most rapidly in the Sundarbans. Various animals face the threat of extinction due to the decline in biodiversity. The average height of trees is decreasing. This is a threat to the habitat of birds, monkeys and animals living on the trees.

More than 31 globally endangered wildlife animals live in the Sundarbans. The forest department said the Bengal Tiger, python, king cobra, hargila (adjutant stork), white-bellied sea eagle, two otter species, kalamukhpera pakhi (masked finfoot), ring lizard, fishing cat, chamochthutobatan (sandpiper), eagle and modantak (lesser adjutant) are among the endangered animal species. According to IUCN, more than 40 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are considered critically endangered.

Declaring Bengal Tiger a critically endangered species, the ICUN has already warned that the animal is on the verge of extinction.

The number of the tigers was 440 in 2004. The last survey of forest department in 2019 counted as many as 114 tigers in 2019. Tiger conservation is essential. The Himalayan country Nepal achieved its target of doubling the tiger number four years ago. India, too, has nearly doubled their tigers. Bangladesh’s forest department has taken many initiatives to save the tigers. Several NGOs are also working in tiger conservation relentlessly.


Aquatic animals declining

Nowadays, aquatic animals of the Sundarbans are being caught more than ever before. Many aquatic animals are under threat of extinction. Most of the finfishes and shellfish face threat.

The northern river terrapin 'Batagur Baska' turtle, which once became extinct globally, was found in the Sundarbans but now it’s extremely endangered.

Besides, species of Gangetic dolphin, Irrawaddy dolphin and saltwater crocodile are also become endangered. Accounts of various wildlife animals in the Sundarbans are found in the articles published in different journals. But other than tigers and dolphins, no regular survey is carried out on the animals of the Sundarbans. As a result, it becomes difficult to be updated and learn the actual figure of these animals. Statistics should be released on the resources and biodiversity of the Sundarbans by following recognised scientific methods. As a result, taking effective measure for the conservation of the Sundarbans will be possible. In this case, commission members of the ICUN can be included.

Main causes of deforestation

The ecology and biodiversity of the Sundarbans is under extreme threat due to mainly manmade reasons, climate change and natural disaster. Firstly, politically and economically powerful groups are grabbing the forest illegally. People’s settlements are increasing gradually around the forest. Despite the ban, illegal tree felling is causing deforestation.

Secondly, commercial activities are also increasing in ecologically critical area surrounding the forest. Thirdly, excessive extraction of forest resources is damaging the biodiversity. Besides, many species face damage owing to harmful methods of resource extraction. For example, poison and harmful nets are often used for fishing.

Fourthly, despite the co-management, the existing forest management system has marginalised the rights and traditional knowledge of the forest-dependent people. For instance, they require clearance from the forest department every year against a certain amount of money to gather their resources. Allegations of irregularities and corruption have been found in getting clearance certificates. So the forest people tend to collect more resources than they need to meet these extra costs. Fifthly, the ecosystem and bio-diversity are being threatened with extinct due to the frequent natural disasters.

Sixthly, several organic and inorganic ingredients (salinity, rainfall, soil pH, mineral ingredients etc.) of the forest are being altered owing to the climate change, an alarming signal for ecosystem. Seventhly, both the conservation and sustainability will have improved if the traditional knowledge and the sustainable customary methods of forest people are used.

Updating forest conservation laws

Updating laws on forest, nature and biodiversity conservation as well as its implementation are necessary. The government has sought public opinion on the draft of Forest Act 2019. The national committee of IUCN Bangladesh has already placed a set of opinions and proposals.

Protection of the forest and the forest lands will increase if the practice of different traditional knowledge and sustainable customary methods of the forest-dependent people can be increased by including these into the institutional forest management.Capacity and transparency will increase, if the people from different professions of the civil society as well as the forest dwellers have the opportunity to participate in forest management. Taking different international laws into consideration is also necessary to update the laws on the forest. Punitive measures are essential against destroying and grabbing forest and any activity harmful to the biodiversity and forest area. In this case, proper enforcement of the law is necessary.

Nature-human relations

The Sundarbans has been providing with unstinting service. It has been the coastal protective shield. The Sundarbans presents the pride, glory and tradition of Bangladesh to the world. But its capacity to face natural disasters and climate change and reduce air pollution, and above all, its natural resources, have been declining due to the negative qualitative changes in the forest.

The lesson taught by coronavirus is that it is important to foster relations between nature and humankind.Protecting the biodiversity of the Sundarbans is essential for the sake of our existence. If the relations between nature and human beings as well as inter-dependency and cooperation can be restored, then biodiversity will be protected from destruction. Ecological balance will be maintained and a good living for both human and environment will be ensured. Since human beings are responsible for the destruction of nature, their efforts can bring nature back to the life.

Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir is a professor at the Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka and chairperson of Unnayan Onneshon. He is the vice chairperson of IUCN Asia Regional Members Committee and chairperson of IUCN Bangladesh - National Committee. He can be reached at [email protected].

*This article appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Hasanul Banna.

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