Bird poaching: a difficult puzzle to solve
Seeing migratory birds fly in the winter skies can captivate any individual -- be it the seasoned birdwatcher or an unassuming passer-by.
However, coming across these scenes have turned into a rare occurrence, as poachers are threatening the biodiversity.
Sylhet division sees a yearly migration of thousands of migratory birds. Despite continuous raids by mobile courts, setting fines and raising awareness, poaching is a problem that keeps persisting.
According to the Department of Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation, the prevalence of bird hunters is highest in Hakaluki Haor, Hail Haor and Baikka Beel in Sylhet region, and various other haor-beels and field-ghats.
Other than seasoned hunters, locals and villagers too partake in the hunting.
A persistent issue behind the unabated hunting seems to be a lack of awareness among the public. Either people don't know a species of bird is protected, and therefore, illegal to hunt, or in many cases the hunters don't know there's a steep fine and jail term if they are caught poaching.
Moniruzzaman Chowdhury, site officer of Centre for Natural Resource Studies (CNRS), who worked for the protection of Hail Haor under a project titled "Climate Regional Ecosystems Livelihood", said they were able to seize several poison traps from Baikka Beel when they had seven staffers at their disposal, before the project ended in 2018.
Poachers usually set traps right before dawn or dusk to catch the birds.
Just a fortnight ago, a man named Khaja Mia was caught with birds from West Bharaora area of Sreemangal upazila. At least five migratory birds and hunting equipment were seized from his possession. The mobile court fined him Tk 3,000.
Biswajit Bhattacharjee Bapon, spokesperson of Mita Foundation, a voluntary organisation for conservation, said they had information that Khaja Mia is involved in hunting various species of birds in Hail Haor.
Section 38 (2) of the Bangladesh Wildlife Conservation and Safety Act 2012 states that any person who procures, sells or transports the flesh of any bird or migratory bird mentioned in Schedule 1 and 2 shall be deemed an offender and be liable to the maximum penalty for the said offence -- imprisonment of up to six months or fine of up to Tk 30,000 or both.
If the same offence is repeated, they can be punished with imprisonment for a maximum of one year and a fine of Tk 50,000 or both, Bapon said.
On September 25, the mobile court sentenced another man, Abdus Shaheed Raju, to 15 days in prison and fined him Tk 5,000 in Moulvibazar Thana Bazar. Authorities seized eight birds from his possession.
Earlier on August 30, the forest department released 32 birds that were seized from Parua market in Sylhet's Bholaganj.
Nurul Mohaimin Milton, general secretary of Moulvibazar Environmental journalist Association, said birds are being hunted from different places and are being sold in secrecy. He said awareness is a big barrier as many people in the villages still don't know that hunting and selling of protected species of birds is a criminal activity.
Sandeep Talukder, assistant commissioner (land) of Sreemangal land office told The Daily Star, "We usually get to know about bird poaching based on tip-offs. The hunters stay put inside the haor with their boats. We've been conducting raids in different areas of the haor since last week."
Meanwhile, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, divisional forest officer of Sylhet Department of Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation, said if they find any information of bird hunters, appropriate legal measures are taken immediately.
He also said the Forest Department is continuing its work to increase public awareness through regular campaigns.