Zamil Khan is by profession a restaurateur. He runs a Bangla fare establishment called Nongor in Comilla's Jhawtala. But from a young age his foremost passion has been for nature. At a young age this passion led him to develop a nursery business; what is yet more remarkable are the voluntary, self-motivated activities he has undertaken since, to preserve, protect and enhance Comilla's natural environment.
“My first inspiration actually came from people's gardens,” Zamil recalls. “I saw what neighbours had done and started to plant flower bushes in front of our house. As a child I often visited local nurseries in search of colourful flowers.”
In 1989, he started a nursery of his own, Omi Nursery, first in Comilla Pouro Park and later in the Comilla Botanical Garden area. Ultimately he could not find a suitable permanent location for his nursery. It could hardly stop him.
In 1994 with the permission of the roads and highways authority, Zamil established a plantation beside the Dhaka – Chittagong highway, which only encouraged further zeal. Next, he planted different fruit trees and flowers, and environmentally friendly tree species on the banks of the Gomoti River, in Dharmosagor Park, at Comilla Central Eidgah and in the Lalmai Pahar area.
Then one day Zamil observed water birds alternately hunting and resting over local water bodies. He wondered what he could do to provide safe and secure resting sites for migratory species. “I decided to make some rafts of banana stalks and float them in Dhormosagor for the birds,” he says, “Surrounded by water in the rafts the birds could find a secure spot to take rest, without being disturbed.”
Zamil laments that bird numbers are in decline year after year, as he has observed due to food scarcity, a lack of safe breeding sites and the loss of mature trees and favoured habitat. The banana rafts were one way in which he sought to improve the situation; though fish farmers often destroy his improvised sanctuaries.
“Once I was sitting in my restaurant when two young boys arrived, referred by a friend of mine,” continues Zamil, whose reputation for caring for nature was by this time spreading. “They came from Lalmai Pahar area and had with them a strange, wild animal they hoped to sell, but found nobody to buy it.”
The animal was an elusive pangolin, a protected native species of scaly anteater. “I bought the animal for just Tk. 100 and released it in Lalmai Pahar. Then I felt responsibility to work for animals too.” It was the first of many animals he has rescued.
In 2005 he founded Wild Watch, an organisation of friends, neighbours and relatives dedicated to environmental protection and building bonds between nature and human society. Activities have included awareness meetings with indigenous peoples of the Lalmai Pahar area who yet hunt rare species, dig soil and unthinkingly degrade natural habitats.
Active on social media, Zamil uploads past and present photos of Dharmosagor Park and Comilla City Park to protest against mushroom commercial trade along parkland walkways.
He believes the biggest challenge in improving Comilla's environment is to allow trees to grow naturally, to maintain natural habitats, which, he says, is much more difficult than planting them. “In artificial plantations I find no bushes beneath the trees; and without bushes the plantations are of less interest to birds and animals.”
He also hopes mature trees can be protected and more fruit trees planted as food sources for animals. “We need to think a lot more about the environment and nature,” he says.
To this end along with planting trees and affixing nesting boxes for birds, Zamil prints awareness posters for the community; with all endeavours funded from his own pocket.
“At the restaurant I am busy all day,” he says. “I get tired. But when I work for birds, wild animals or the environment, all my tiredness and anxieties seem to fly away. Nature brings me peace of mind.”