Birds long dead, money meant for their feed ‘embezzled’
Forest department officials have shown dead exotic birds of an aviary in Chattogram as alive in documents allegedly for six years embezzling the money meant for bird feed.
The Sheikh Russel Aviary and Eco Park was inaugurated in 2013 with 740 exotic and 199 native birds in Rangunia upazila.
But a committee formed in February this year to count the birds found only 183, most of which are mallards and ducks, according to Shitol Pal, assistant conservator of forest, who was the member secretary of the committee.
On paper, the park had 30 species of exotic birds, but in reality, the committee found only five: pelican, jandaya parakeet, bar-headed goose, and blue and gold macaw. There were also 169 turtles in the lake.
According to records obtained by The Daily Star, the park spent about Tk 3.08 lakh to feed 740 birds for just 18 days in January and the park authority allocated Tk 50 lakh for bird feed in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
An employee of the park, who feeds the birds, said the feed mostly contains grain husks and a small amount of bananas, sunflower seeds and eggs that doesn't cost more than Tk 80,000 a month.
Employees of the park on 520 acres of hilly area said most of the birds died during a 2016 cyclone that damaged all the cages. But the losses were not recorded on paper.
The birds listed by the committee include mallards and ducks 78, quail 26, local parrot 17, common peafowl 17 and turkey 11.
Contacted, Rangunia Range Officer Masum Kabir, who was in-charge of the park at different times from 2020 to January 2023, did not give a direct answer when asked why there was such a discrepancy between the number of birds found by the committee and the number shown on food ration documents.
He claimed the birds died at different times and the list was revised regularly.
When he was reminded about the January diet chart that mentioned 740 birds, he said ducks were bought to restore the stock. He didn't directly answer when asked about the mention of exotic birds on documents.
A day after the committee counted the birds, the contractor supplied the ducks, he said, adding that the park now has the number of birds mentioned on paper.
According to records, M/S Meem Traders has been supplying feed to the park since it was established.
Asked how many birds his firm has been supplying the feed for, Babul, the proprietor, said he would not answer the question and told this reporter never to call him again.
Alimul Raji, the veterinarian of the aviary, said it was difficult for the exotic birds to cope with the climate.
Most of the birds flew away or died during cyclone Roanu in 2016. Besides, a landslide coupled with heavy downpour damaged four cages, but no list was prepared of the remaining birds, he added.