Many species of wildlife have now become critically endangered in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) due to indiscriminate poaching and rapid depletion of forests.
Rare species of wildlife like Yak (goyal), Tiger, Panther (chitabagh), large and small civet cat, Pangolin, Gibbon (Ulluk), Barking deer and Samber, Slow Loris (Lajjabati Banor) and peacock are already on the verge of extinction in the CHT forests. At the same time many common species are also fleeing the forests across the border as illegal poaching and fast depleting of forests reserves are causing their safe abode to shrink faster, observe zoologists.
Sources at Department of Forest (DoF) said illegal logging, growing population, lack of wildlife conservation and awareness campaign and hunting by the indigenous people are the major reasons behind depletion of forests and disappearance of wildlife.
Prof M Monirul H Khan of Department of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said during his recent visit to Pablakhali Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaptai National Park in Rangamati he saw that people living near the reserve forests basically earn livelihoods from the illegal logging.
He said number of such people is very little and alternative livelihoods for them through building of environment-friendly eco-tourism could have saved the forests and wildlife.
Animals like deer, wild pigs and wild birds are being killed by the poachers in different natural and reserve forests in the CHT due to lack of manpower required to ensure protection.
There are two wildlife sanctuaries -- Kaptai National Park (Rampahar-Sitapahar reserve forest) that was declared sanctuary on only 14,000 acres of forestland in 1991 and Pablakhali Wildlife Sanctuary was created in Longudu upazila in 1983 on 92,000 acres of forestland.
The Daily Star correspondent recently visited the two wildlife sanctuaries and talked to forest department employees and local indigenous people.
"Wild animals are always on the run as poachers follow them wherever they hide”, said forest staffs on condition of anonymity.
“Though there are two sanctuaries in hills but you would never see any wild animal unless you are lucky”, they continued.
They said deer, tigers, leopards, wild pigs, pythons, peacocks, spotted deer and wild cocks are not seen nowadays in Pablakhali Wildlife Sanctuary except only a herd of wild elephants. These were once seen even near human habitations, they added.
“They have left the forests for survival and due to presence of poachers. These are sanctuaries in name only now”, they added.
Even the Jhum cultivation through denudation of hills in and around the reserve forests areas also threatened biodiversity, they said.
Sources said poachers mostly hunt deer, barking deer, samber, porcupine, wild pig as meat of these animals is very popular among the tribal people.
A section of unscrupulous meat traders and dishonest forest officials are blamed for encouraging the bad practice when such meats are sold publicly in the local markets and there is hardly any raid by forest officials.
A survey conducted in 1975 found 76 species of wild mammals, 183 species of wild birds, seven species of amphibious animals and 25 species of reptiles and snakes in the CHT forests.
But many of these, including wild elephants, wild pigs, deer, wild dogs, porcupines, wild cocks, snakes, some species of monkeys, baboons (honuman), jackals, hares, few species of frogs, mongoose, leopards, wild buffaloes are now rarely seen in the forests.
Deer, wild pig, porcupine, 'Murkura' (a beautiful wild bird like peacock), pangolin and python are the main targets to the poachers as they bring handsome amount of money to them, indigenous people in the hills said.
Md Moyeen Uddin Khan, divisional forest officer of North Division, said fast depleting forest reserves and high consumption of the species due to increasing population have led to the concern that the species are likely to become extinct.
Besides, most wild animals and birds are popular as food among the indigenous people, which is another cause of endangering wildlife, he added.
When contacted Md Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, conservator of forest (CF) of CHT Circle, said their duty is to conserve forests for the interest of wildlife. Now Integrated Protected Area Co-management (IPAC) is taking care of two sanctuaries. IPAC has already carried out a survey at Pablakhali Wildlife Sanctuary, he added.