A few months ago, retired cardiologist and photographer Dr Mahboob Ali was playing golf at the city's Kurmitola Golf Club early in the morning. As he was playing in the green with his caddy, he suddenly noticed something very strange -- a jackal was sitting near a tree.
It is strange because nobody sees a jackal or a fox in Dhaka nowadays. Besides, neither the jackal nor its rare smaller version -- the Bengal fox -- would appear in public.
Being an animal lover himself, Dr Ali at first decided not to bug it. But then he realised the German Shepherd-sized jackal was not trying to run away. From a close distance, he took a quick snap of the jackal with his smart phone. As he walked closer, he realised the hind part of the poor animal was injured.
“Did someone hit this poor animal?” Dr Ali whispered to his caddy.
The caddy was aware of some jackals in the golf course. And this clearly looked like work of some human beings.
He offered the jackal some biscuits, but the jackal did not bother. He stepped back but asked the caddy if something could be done for the animal.
Some golfers and caddies later offered proper food to the animal and gave it the chance to recover. Dr Ali checked out the jackal next day. The caddy assured him that it had finally gone into the busy part of the golf course.
This little experience brings to the fore the question -- what happened to the foxes and jackals of Dhaka? Is the Dhaka Cantonment only place where some foxes are still alive?
We heard howls of foxes deep inside Dhaka, around the Water Research Institute on Green Road even in the nineties. The area around the Mirpur zoo is another place where you can still hear their howl. And perhaps the biggest area where foxes are still alive is the area surrounding the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and the now developing Uttara Third Phase.
According to famous wildlife expert Dr Reza Khan, jackals are still found in rural areas of the country as they are adaptive to the changing environment and availability of food. But unfortunately, the Bengal fox or Pati Sheyal has become extremely rare. Bengal Fox lives in grasslands which are disappearing fast.
“The last time I saw a Bengal fox was in Dinajpur,” said Dr Reza over the phone.
So it is unlikely that a Bengal fox would be seen in Dhaka.
Wait. No. I came across a Bengal fox in broad daylight in May while driving through Uttara Third Phase where long thick grass have grown up everywhere due to the recent rains.
The grey fox with some red tints was no bigger the size of a small dog (3 to 4 kilo dogs) with an unreal cute face. It was sneaking out of a jungle of tall grass to cross a newly-built road. My driver pushed the brake, so did the fox. For a few moments, we froze and the fox quickly turned back and jumped into the grass. In seconds, its furry thick tail melted into the greenery.
Little do we realise how fortunate we are that we still have these animals around us. Dhaka once had all kinds of wildlife -- from tigers to elephants --even a hundred years ago. But now it sounds like a myth.
Farmers of the country hate foxes because they steal chickens. These foxes are still found in numbers across the country, but when they are caught, they are beaten to death. Habitat loss is constantly driving them out of different areas and putting them into conflicts with the humans. One day the only foxes that will be left for us to see will be in the books.