Destroying bird habitat for a tea garden
The state-owned National Tea Company took the lease of Moulvibazar's Kurma Chonkhul area a long time ago. The place, surrounded by trees and bushes, serves as the sole breeding ground for the rare Golden Headed Cisticola, locally known as "Munia" in Bangladesh, and many other endangered species.
Recently, the NTC began the process of turning this area into a tea garden, by cutting all the bushes and many of the trees. This has damaged the habitat of many rare and endangered birds, including the Munia.
In response, the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department requested the assistance of the deputy commissioner of Moulvibazar to declare the area as a "Bird Sanctuary", although many believe that the damage has already been done.
According to the letter, chonkhula is a cow grazing land covered with grass and chaff. During the dry season, the local community collects some grass from here but most of the time it is abandoned as a pasture for cattle and a safe habitat for wild birds and animals.
The letter states that wildlife habitats are currently declining due to climate change and other adverse conditions. Many wild animals have gone extinct; many are on the verge of extinction. The forest (Chankhola) has a variety of Munia bird species, which are not seen in any other forests in the country.
The district administration oversees all matters, including the land lease of all tea gardens in Moulvibazar. Hence, the letter requested the office of the DC to issue necessary instructions to the NTC for protecting wildlife.
Earlier, the Forest Department also issued a letter to the NTC on March 3, 2021, to preserve this land as a wildlife habitat. However, the tea garden authorities proceeded to clear the forest anyway.
Bird specialist Inam Al Haque visited the affected area on December 18. "If Chonkhula is declared a sanctuary with the help of the DC, the place will play a strong role in the conservation of rare and endangered animals. This place needs to be prevented from being used for any other purposes, including setting up a tea garden," he said.
Wildlife photographer Khukon Thounaojam said, "Chonkhula is the only breeding ground of Golden Headed Cisticola in Bangladesh. No other secondary breeding grounds were found in the country. The bird is very rare."
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, divisional forest officer of Wild Animal Management and Nature Conservation Department, told this correspondent, "Different species of Munia, including the Golden Headed Cisticola, Red Munia, Siberian Stonechat, Button Quail, and rare species of owls and other animals can be found in Chonkhula."
"NTC is committed not to conducting further deforestation in this place. I have talked to the DC. We hope the place will be declared a wildlife sanctuary soon."
Mohammad Shamsul Islam, deputy general manager of NTC, said they have withdrawn from the plan to convert the forest into a tea garden. "We will try to make up for the damage," he added.
Mir Nahid Ahsan, deputy commissioner of Moulvibazar, said, "I have spoken to him (divisional forest officer). I will speak to the ministries concerned and talk to the garden authorities in this regard."