Storks find friends and foes at Ashurhat
Over the years, Ashurhat in Jhenidah's Shailakupa upazila has become a haven for the Shamuk Bhanga or Asian openbill storks.
Also known as Shyamkhol, the birds first took shelter in the village in 2007. Back then, they numbered in the double digits. Some 14 years in, there's now around 25,000 of the birds in the village.
Most of them reside on the big trees that neighbour the three water bodies of the village. By their very grace, they attract a huge number of visitors to Ashurhat.
People from neighbouring villages now call it "Pakhir Gram".
Somewhere along the line, the birds have become beloved to the locals. Like clockwork, they leave to seek food at dawn, and come back before dusk, and the villagers are only too glad to have them call it home.
But in spite of this loving relationship, the birds find themselves in a tight spot. As their numbers have increased, they have become a target for hunters -- some of them quite influential in the area. If anyone steps up and asks them to stop, the hunters start an altercation and quickly take charge of the situation, alleged locals.
In 2020, two village police personnel were deployed to watch the birds at night. But this was not nearly enough.
When the situation called for it, the villagers' affection for the birds shone through. Sensing alarm, locals took it upon themselves to guard the birds.
On Tuesday morning, villager Akmal Hossain identified himself as a bird lover to this correspondent. "There's no money involved, I do it out of love," he said.
But regardless of how hard they try, he said, the local influential still manage to hunt down the birds at night. Akmal said if the government doesn't do something fast, this bird sanctuary may soon cease to exist.
Rehana Khatun, a resident, said the local authority hung up two signboards calling for the safety of birds but that's not enough. She also said the deployed village police don't carry out their job well enough, which leaves the birds at the hunters' behest.
Contacted, Nityanandapur Union Parishad chairperson Faruk Hossain said he has informed the administration to take necessary steps to ensure the safety of the birds.
UNO Kanij Fatema Liza of Shailakupa upazila said she has visited Ashurhat recently and deployed the two aforementioned village police personnel. She also said she has advised locals to keep an eye out for the hunters while they figure out a solution.
She added that she has forwarded a letter to the ministry concerned for the acquisition of the bird sanctuary of Ashurhat village.