To state that Dhaka, as a concrete jungle, is devoid of nature’s finest creatures or even out of touch with its wilder side, would not be much of an understatement. However, it would not be completely accurate. Dhaka still holds many surprises for those with a keen eye, although this may not be the case in the near future. Whatever wildlife that has evolved in this part of the country has fast dwindled in numbers, as many species are now on the verge of extinction.
Eminent wildlife expert Ronald R Halder said, “Destruction of natural resources is rampant, to say the least. Wildlife is a gift of nature. Once these resources are destroyed, we cannot get them back. We should be careful about saving nature for our own interests. Singapore, a land of only 704 square kilometres, has set aside 20 percent of its land for natural resources. Surely, we can do much better.”
According to Halder, the animals that co-exist with the human population in Dhaka are doing so by changing their habits. For example, crows used to lay eggs only if they could build nests on trees. Now, with many trees being cut down, they have resorted to abandoned buildings or half finished man-made structures as nesting grounds. Their numbers have surged in recent years. One reason for the increase in crow population in Dhaka is unplanned urbanisation. One of the consequences of this rampant urbanisation has been the dumping of waste in undesignated areas, giving crows an unfair advantage when it comes to gathering food. Although they act as nature’s own cleaners, consuming and recycling waste, their burgeoning numbers also have detrimental effects. Crows, can and do harm the population levels of other birds as they feed on the eggs of other bird species.
Despite rapid urbanisation, Ronald Halder informs that Dhaka currently boasts the largest population of the lokkhi pecha (barn owl) in the city’s history. Significant numbers of this creature can be found in the Gulshan and Banani areas. As the lokkhi pecha needs a small hole to lay its eggs, ventilators or spaces where air-conditioners are placed are ideal spots for laying eggs for these birds. Therefore, the lokkhi pecha is a very common sight and has adapted to the changes in its environment, aiding it to thrive.
Mongooses, another resilient creature, are still found in Dhaka, especially in wetlands or marshes where there is an abundance of small bushes, or in areas where garbage is dumped. Mongooses are also found inside graveyards, as well as in suburban areas such as Uttara, Mohammadpur, Keraniganj, Demra and Jatrabari.
Around 20 years ago, rhesus monkeys could be seen roaming around many places in Dhaka. But now they can only be seen in Old DOHS, Baridhara and around Gulshan Lake. These tree-bound creatures are still found in Old Dhaka, although trees are rapidly disappearing there. Perhaps that is because people of the Hindu community, many of whom live in Old Dhaka, have a soft corner for the little primates for religious reasons, and so are quite indulgent towards them.
Not all creatures, however, have been as lucky. According to Halder, jackals, present in central Dhaka even thirty years ago, have had a serious decline in their numbers over the years. However, one can still see jackals near the Mirpur Ceramic factory and in the premises of the BDR headquarters and its adjoining areas on rare occasions. At times, pump civets or jungle cats can be spotted in Ashulia, Savar and the Uttara belt, although these are also on the verge of extinction, due to needless hunting and loss of habitat. Holdegal titi or hottiti, once seen around Central Dhaka, are now only to be found in peripheral areas such as Ashulia, Savar and Uttara, suffering the consequences of Dhaka’s fast-paced growth.
Besides these creatures, Dhaka is also home to bats, monitor lizards (gui shap), squirrels, snakes, garden lizards (rokto chosha), pangolin (bonrui); although almost all of them are on the brink of extinction.