Poisoned, in their habitat
Dozens of monkeys died in Moheshkhali forest on Tuesday after eating poisoned bananas placed as a trap by a local farmer who encroached upon the forest to cultivate his crop.
The incident took place in Baritilla Ghona area in Cox's Bazar's Moheskhali upazila around 5:00pm, Dinur Alam, a local environmental activist and president of Green Environment Movement, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Forest department officials visited the spot and found proof that the monkeys, belonging to the rhesus macaque species, had been poisoned and identified the farmer. They did not disclose the farmer's name as the process to file a case was underway.
They said the farmer was one of many who encroached upon the forest to cultivate their crop, and who viewed wildlife as a nuisance.
One of the monkeys was also seen hanging from a tree.
Dinur Alam said they counted around 50 monkeys killed. Many had been buried by the farmer by the time forest officials reached the spot, he added.
He accused forest officials of negligence in conserving the wildlife in the forest as most of the time they do not take any action against such acts to avoid animosity.
"They [forest officials] could not go to the spot until Wednesday morning, although the incident took place around 5:00pm on Tuesday. They sometimes hold awareness campaigns at the upazila auditorium despite our request to hold those near forest areas," he said.
Abhijit Kumar Barua, range officer of Moheskhali Range under Chattogram Coastal Division, told The Daily Star that they found proof of the brutality upon a visit to the area on Wednesday morning.
"We found a total of three monkeys 500 yards away from where the killing took place. Bananas laced with toxins were found around the field. A troop of monkeys came out from the nearby forest and died within hours of consuming the fruit," he said.
Abhijit said usually 30 to 50 monkeys roam together in a group.
He said they identified the accused and collected the necessary proof of the crime to file a case under the Wildlife Conservation Act-2012.
Mentioning the area as a habitat for wildlife, Abhijit said some influential locals encroach upon the forest, start farming there and view wildlife as a nuisance. When monkeys and other wildlife feast on the crop, they lay snares to kill them.
"We have seen various crop fields including those cultivating bottle gourd, eggplant and other crops there. Due to poor manpower, it becomes tough to evict those … a few months ago, one of our colleagues died after being attacked by grabbers in Moheskhali," he said.
Elephants, monkeys, fishing cats and badgers have been falling victim to illegal grabbers of forestland in greater Chattogram for some time.
As per the Wildlife Conservation Act-2012, if a person commits any crime against wildlife, he or she will be jailed for one year or pay a fine of Tk 50,000, or both in case of the first crime. The penalties are doubled for repeat offences.
Wildlife Biologist Monirul H Khan, also professor of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said it was a truly sad incident.
"Forest department must stop farming inside the forest and take necessary steps to protect wildlife, which has been facing severe onslaught across their range," he said.
Mohammed Abdur Rahman, divisional forest officer of Chattogram coastal forest division, told The Daily Star that his range officer went to the spot with a veterinary surgeon.
"We will sue the accused, who has already been identified, after receiving autopsy report," he said.
Abdul Hai, officer-in-charge of Moheskhali Police Station, told The Daily Star they heard around 50 monkeys were killed, but no one came to lodge any complaint as of yesterday evening.