Poaching of wildlife is alarmingly on the rise in Lawachhara National Park under Moulvibazar's Kamalganj upazila.
Locals and wildlife activists fear that with different types of traps being found in large numbers in the forest in recent times, rare animal species that are found only in Lawachhara might face extinction soon.
The Lawachhara National Park, on only 1,250 hectares of land, is one of the last patches of the country's tropical forests where nearly 460 species of flora and fauna thrive, according to data from Department of Forest.
Ecology and wildlife in a protected area including national parks is protected under Article 23 (3) of the 'Bangladesh Wild Life (Preservation) Order 1973', which states: "Firing any gun or doing any other act, which may disturb any wild animal or doing any act, which may interfere with the breeding places of any wild animal, is prohibited."
Ignoring the law, poachers are active in the forest and setting up net or wire traps on bamboo sticks after the sun goes down, locals told this correspondent.
Deer or other wild animals, foraging for food or prey in the forest, easily get caught in the traps at night. Poachers usually enter Lawachhara through unprotected Radhanagar, Doluchhara and Jerin areas and they are mostly after deer meat (venison), horns and hides. Some of them also catch rabbits, said the locals.
In localities around the forest, venison is high in demand and is sold openly for about Tk 1,000 to Tk 1,500 each kilogram, said a local who requested anonymity.
Different syndicates of poachers help each other out in selling a rare animal such as barking deer, he also said.
Shamsul Haque, joint convener of 'Lawachhara Bon O Jiboboichitro Rokkha Andolan', said he found 20 to 25 wire traps set up in Daluchhara area of the forest where barking deer roam for Bahera and Haritaki fruits.
He also said he had heard howling of a barking deer on the night of December 28. The next morning, after he went in the forest, he found deer footprints and signs of struggle near a trap.
Abdul Karim Kim, Sylhet Chapter member secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA), said a section of locals with the connivance of forest department employees are involved in the poaching of protected wild animals.
Contacted, Divisional Forest Officer Rezaul Karim Chowdhury of Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division in Sylhet said it is quite a challenging task to patrol the park 24 hours a day with the present patrol crew of only 10.
While they intend to take necessary measures to protect wildlife in the national park, they feel that the higher authorities should urgently empower the Division with a workforce that would be adequate, well-trained and well-equipped, he added.
Lawachhara is a natural breeding ground for many wildlife species and like many of them had gone extinct already, more species will face the same fate unless the poaching of wild animals there is stopped immediately, said Dr Narayan Saha, professor of Forestry and Environmental Science at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.