Rafiqul Alam Khan:
Not long ago, people living in rural areas, probably had shared their place with a host of native plants and animals. A typical rural Bengali household was placed in the midst of plenty of natural bushlands known as Village Forest. In this way, people had a natural harmony with nature while accommodating native wildlife needs.
As population density increased rapidly in this tiny deltaic plain, people felt the need to build new residence by taking actions such as cutting down trees, changing land use patterns, and modifying hydrological systems on a massive scale. Such activities replaced rural wildlife’s habitat with that of human settlements. Consequently, we now see a very little amount of village forest left throughout the country. Fast shrinking of such forests are resulting in the extinction of local trees, shrubs, herbs and medicinal plants as well as wildlife and birds from rural areas.
Md. Madedi Hasan, a wildlife biologist and a faculty of Zoology Department of Jagannath University said in an interview that village forests are the key elements of preserving wildlife and biodiversity in the historic Bengal region. Village forests provide safe heaven to native wildlife that include Magpie, Black Bulbul, Myna, Sparrow, Grey Wolf, Fox, Frog, Snake, Turtle, Cougar, Tailor bird, Heron, Baya Weaver, Mongoose, Civet cat, Squirrel etc, he added.
These species play a very crucial role in the environmental ecosystem. For instance, paddy fields oftentimes invaded by insects such as grasshoppers, cicadas, termites, wasps, bees, moths, beetles and dragonflies. Black Drongos, a familiar bird found in rural areas, feed mainly on these insects and are instrumental in surviving the traditional natural pest control process. The existence of such birds only depends on rural forests. Today, their numbers are dwindling due to the destruction of such natural forests. According to IUCN Red List of Bangladesh 2015, 31 species that include 11 animals, 19 birds and one reptile, have disappeared from the country since the list was first published in 2000. Of 1619 species in the list, there are 390 threatened species: 56 are critically endangered, 181 are endangered, and 153 are vulnerable. If this continues, the consequences will be devastating and will lead us to ecological vacuum-a situation where it will be very difficult for native flora and fauna to survive due to low diversity. It is to be noted that rural wildlife is threatened not only due to the destruction of village forests but also excessive use of pesticides and hunting those animals.
Most of the remote rural communities, makeshift dwellers and forest residents are directly dependent on forest resources for their livelihood. Like other natural resources, village forests are playing a crucial role in any country’s economic empowerment and advancement in human development index. Besides refining the air, forests serve human with food, water supply, medicines, clothes, shelters and other valuable resources that are necessary for survival. So, special steps should be taken to preserve and protect the integrity of village forests.
Bangladesh government has taken many initiatives to conserve forests by declaring many biodiversity-rich areas as National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Ecologically Critically Areas, Eco-Parks, Safari Parks and Botanical Gardens. A total of 51 such sites are protected by laws. According to Bangladesh Forest Department, the approximate size of village forest now constitute 0.27 million hectors which covers 1.88% of country’s total area (abridged).
But, the government needs to announce more biodiversity significant rural areas as protected areas in order to maintain the current status of village forests. For providing safety and conservation of forest, wildlife and biodiversity the government has enacted Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act in 2012. But lack of implementation of those laws puts a massive challenge of preserving rural wildlife and village forests.
National parks and protected areas alone will never be able to protect the incredible variety of plant and wildlife found in the forests. People from all walks of life need to change their thinking process. Conservation should be seen as an important factor linked with daily needs, economic development, culture and morality. Conservation should not be a sole responsibility of the government, but it should be a responsibility of every citizen of this nation.