Baikka Beel is witnessing a sharp fall in arrival of migratory birds this winter, a situation that is worrying bird watchers and environmental activists.
The marshy wetland, spread over 1,000 hectares of area in Hail Haor of Moulvibazar’s Srimangal upazila, was declared a bird and fish sanctuary by the government in 2003 with an aim to protect and restore aquatic biodiversity in Hail Haor.
Winter is the peak season when the beel is usually seen swarming with migratory birds that start arriving in early December. But in the middle of January this year, their number seems unusually low in comparison with previous years, wildlife activists and visitors said.
The birds might be avoiding the beel due to unabated poaching and an increase in human habitation in the protected area that used to be host to at least 40 species of birds in the winter season, they also said.
Mirash Mia, who was assigned the task of looking after the beel by Center for Natural Resource Studies (CNRS), a non-governmental organisation, said the birds started coming to the beel two to three weeks back.
He is in no position but watch a good number of locals catch the birds unlawfully with traps set in paddy fields scattered all around the beel, Mirash said helplessly.
Baikka Beel has been a popular destination for bird lovers from near and far, said Mithun Kurmi, a student at Moulvibazar Degree College.
“At the beginning of winter, some guest birds were seen flocking at wetlands around the beel. But now, barely any birds are seen at the beel,” he added.
A frequent visitor to Baikka Beel, Zakir Hossain from Dhaka, said, “There are fewer birds this time. How would the birds come to the sanctuary with so many people living around?”
“All of us, especially the government, need to take proper care and steps for the protection of the birds. Otherwise, our next generation will be deprived of seeing these beautiful creatures.”
A scarcity of natural aquatic plants might also be the reason for the birds’ reluctance in visiting Baikka Beel this year, said Minnat Ali, general secretary of Baragangina Byabosthapona Sangathan, an organisation for the protection of Baikka Beel.
“Padmo [lotus], Shapla [water lily] and grass are all rotten in the beel this time of the season. Without those, the birds are facing a feed crisis. Number of birds at Baikka Beel might have fallen due to this,” he speculated.
Poachers are one of the reasons why the birds might be avoiding the beel this time around, said Swapan Deb Sajal, director of Bonyo Prani Seba Foundation, a Sreemangal-based organisation working for the protection of wildlife.
“Many rare species of birds visit the beel each year. But with a large number of poachers roaming around the beel with traps, the birds are feeling threatened and staying away from the beel.”
Some of the birds might even go extinct as many of the poachers are using poison traps, he added.
Moniruzzaman Chowdhury, site officer of CNRS that worked for the protection of Hail Haor under a project titled ‘Climate Regional Ecosystems Livelihood’, said before the project expired in July of 2018, when they had seven staffers, they were able to seize several poison traps in Baikka Beel.
“Now I am the only one working there and it’s quite difficult for one person to cover such a huge area,” he said, hoping that the number of migratory birds might increase in the beel if a safer environment can be ensured for them all year round.
Although it is a punishable offence to kill, catch or sell migratory birds, poachers are doing all that in a sanctuary such as the Baikka Beel and the law enforcers are not taking any action against them, alleged Nurul Mohaimin Milton, general secretary of Environmental Journalists’ Forum.
When this correspondent raised the concern with Range Officer Monayem Hossain of Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division (WMNCD) in Moulvibazar, he acknowledged the rise in human habitation and poaching activities in Baikka Beel.
The WMNCD will launch a campaign in the beel area next week to raise public awareness in this regard, he also said.
Nazrul Islam, Sreemangal Upazila Nirbahi Officer, said necessary steps would be taken to provide a safe environment for all birds in Baikka Beel.