Ahmed Shatil Alam reveals how hundreds of wildlife animals are being smuggled out of the country or poached evading the radars of the law enforcers
On November 8, 2013, Huffington Post published a report that Thai custom officials arrested a man for having four suitcases filled with protected black pond turtles at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. The discovery came after authorities found 423 protected tortoises and 52 black pond turtles stashed in unclaimed bags after arriving on a flight from Bangladesh. International trade of the rare black pond turtle is prohibited, but together the turtles are estimated to be worth about $111,000 on the black market.
Earlier on November 3 of that year, Thai Customs at the same airport found 80 more protected turtles on luggage also from Bangladesh.
‘It does seem that the number of turtles and tortoises coming out of South Asia is skyrocketing, especially with regards to the black pond turtle,’ said Chris Shepherd of Wildlife trade protection group Traffic to Huffington Post.
The rare black pond turtle is native to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal. The IUCN considers them to be a vulnerable species, and the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act of 1992 grants them legal protection On September 29, 2014, Thailand custom again seized 140 endangered turtles native to Bangladesh from the same airport.
On December 14, Border Guards of Bangladesh seized 220 different types of turtles from Benapole border which was about to be trafficked into India. Then the very next day, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport Authority seized 510 golden colored turtles, while earlier Bangladesh police also seized 490 endangered turtles from Magura district.
Aside from turtles, there are other endangered animals that are trafficked for their skin and other body parts from Bangladesh to other South Eastern Asian countries including India, Thailand, Myanmar etc, said wild life experts. They also said that due to the continuous poaching, trafficking and other illegal activities, there are almost 100 different species of animals that are on the verge of extinction, while many others have already become extinct.
Dhaka University Zoology department’s former chairperson professor Noor Jahan Sarker said, ‘In Bangladesh, there are 950 different species of animals native to the country, but after the extinction of 20 species including crocodile and gharial, currently 930 have survived’.
Among the surviving species, 100 have already become endangered, some are turtles, she said.
The Bangladesh Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act 2012, states that killing of any endangered wild animal, including all types of turtles will be a punishable offence, said Centre for Advanced Research in Natural Resources and Management chief executive SMA Rashid.
Meanwhile, RAB arrested poachers in Satkhira on October 17 last year, and recovered two tiger skins. In 2012, the elite force rescued three Bengal Tiger cubs from a poacher’s residence in the capital. The cubs were later placed under the custody of the Forest Department.
Besides, several studies on wildlife claim that two to three tigers are killed by the poachers in Bangladesh every year, while a study carried out by the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh in 2012 claimed that the number of tigers in the Sunderbans had come down by 69 percent since 2008 due to illegal poaching and trafficking. According to the forest department, there are 440 Bengal tigers in the wild in the Sundarbans as per the tiger census held in 2008.
Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division of Forest Department’s Khulna office has estimated that a total of 52 tigers were either killed or have died of natural causes between 1996 and June 2013. Of them, 16 tigers were poached, 11 died of natural causes and others were killed by beating by local people after several confrontations, while the Forest Department office in Dhaka’s sources said they recovered 17 tiger skins from different parts of the country during the period of 2001-2014 as they were being smuggled out of the country.
According to The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network’s report published in 2010, in Bangladesh the total earnings from illegal wildlife trade is worth close to Tk 300 crore per year.
On January 19, a mobile court supported by the Rapid Action Battalion, arrested five people from Dhaka who were subsequently given sentences between two months and 1 year of jail and fined different amounts after being caught with a tiger skin and 5 spotted deer.
Meanwhile, Wild Life Trust of Bangladesh estimated that every year around 10,000 deers fall into the hands of poachers in Bangladesh.
In February this year the shocking news became viral over social networking and several news-sites that a six feet tall young elephant had been found dead with its’ head cut off from the body in Bandarban.
Confirming the matter Lama upazila in Bandarban forest officer Rafiqul Islam said the young elephant’s body was recovered from the remote Dochhari area of the Gajalia union in the upazila by a joint operation of Army, Forest Department and Department of Animal.
He also said the department filed a case to bring the poacher to justice.
According to the forest office sources in Lama, a total of eight elephants have so far been killed by the poacher in last 12 years. Among them in last year two elephants were brutally killed in the said upazila. After killing the elephants, the poacher picked off the teeth for ivory.
Earlier on December 30, a mobile court led by AHM Anwar Pasha sentenced a person named Mintu Kazi with jail of a month and fined Tk 50,000 after he had been caught with a 10 feet long Python’s skin, a 5 inches long deer skin and three horns. He also informed the court that he collected the items from different sources in all over the country and in order to sell them to the Kabiraj for making ayurvedic medicines.
Later on January 9, 2015, the mobile court, conducted a drive at Kataban area in Dhaka and recovered three fishing cat cubs and sentenced a person with six months of jail and fined Tk 50,000.
In this regard, Pasha said that wildlife trafficking or smuggling is the second highest crime among all types of trafficking in Bangladesh and that several active international-national criminal rackets are responsible for these acts.
A high official at RAB claiming anonymity said that these rackets are using the country as a route and also as a source for wildlife trafficking.
Some forest department officials are also involved in the heinous crime, therefore even after several attempts by RAB the crimes are still continuing, he said.
Claiming the exposed trafficking matters as ‘tip of the iceberg’ Professor Noor Jahan Sarker said, ‘the people who were being held or arrested for trafficking are just the small portion of total criminal activities, there are many people are still moving outside who are the culprits’.
She also blames the forest department as well as the government for taking the matter very lightly and said, ‘if the animals become extinct then we might have to face a great catastrophe-larger than Aila and Sidr’.
Echoing her sentiments, SMA Rashid said, ‘the earth does not only belong to humans, and without the animals our biodiversity will be destroyed.
Conservator of Forests (wildlife) Tapan Kumar Dey, however, brushed aside the allegations on his department officials and said they are facing huge shortages of manpower and hence are not fully equipped to enforce the rules, therefore have no control over the matter.
‘We have established a Wild Life Crime Control Unit, which has been coordinating with the circle offices in different parts of the country as it has only 8 persons,’ he said.