Madhupur Sal Forest: Of deforestation and vanishing wildlife
The Madhupur Sal Forest in Tangail, once teeming with diverse wildlife such as peacocks, wild buffalo, and deer, is now facing a devastating impact from deforestation, food shortages, and poaching.
Ajay A Mre, a 70-year-old Garo leader and former president of Jayenshahi Adibashi Unnayan Parishad, said there was a time when the forest was abundant with wildlife during his childhood.
He used to venture deep inside the forest with his herd of cattle every evening. There, he would see and hear a variety of wildlife. There were abundance of wild fruit trees and medicinal herbs and shrubs -- including Bohera, Haritaki, Amloki, Dumur, Anai Gota, Joina Gota, and Tithi Jam.
The wild fruits and herbal plants mentioned by Ajay are among the 36 varieties of trees that have become nonexistent.
The decline in biodiversity is evident, with the forest, which originally spanned 45,000 acres, now reduced to a mere 10,000 acres due to tree felling and encroachment, as reported by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.
The tree felling and encroachment resulted in an acute food crisis, leaving the remaining primates and birds struggling to survive, said locals and forest officials.
Fruits and fresh leaves from trees were the main food source for the monkeys, langurs, deer, squirrels, and different birds, including Horial (green pigeon) and parrots. Now only a few of these fruit trees remain in the forest.
The helpless animals, facing an acute food crisis, particularly in winter, venture onto highways and invade neighbouring villages, resulting in fatal accidents or falling prey to poachers.
Recently, a group of hungry monkeys resorted to raiding a banana-laden truck on the Tangail-Mymensingh highway in the Rasulpur area, highlighting the severity of the issue. Many locals said monkeys and hanumans come out of the forest and wait beside the highway seeking food and often meet a tragic end.
Gautam Chandra Chanda, BELA divisional coordinator, said apart from protecting the natural forests, laws should be enforced to protect the forest biodiversity. Besides, there is a need to create a committee of foresters, administration, and local forest dwellers.
Contacted, Sazzadur Rahman, divisional forest officer in Tangail, said Tk 4 lakh is allocated annually for the food of the forest monkeys, hanumans and deer.
"It will not be possible for the forest department alone to protect the wildlife, unless all parties concerned are aware," he added.
Ashikur Rahman, assistant conservator of forests in Madhupur, said there are about 65-70 deer in the Deer Breeding Centre and several thousands of monkeys and hanuman in the forest.
"Every year in June-July, we plant various fruit trees to increase food sources for wildlife. We have conducted awareness seminars before and will continue to do so," he added.