Wildlife activists said they had long been calling on the authorities to take measures for preventing the deaths of animals caused by train and automobile accidents but to no avail
The road and rail routes running through the Lawachara National Park have turned into death traps for animals inhabiting the nature reserve.
An estimated three wild animals are killed by trains and speedy vehicles in the forest every day, according to different survey results.
An eight-kilometre stretch of the Dhaka-Sylhet train route and a 6.5-kilometre stretch of a link road run through the park in Moulvibazar's Kamalganj upazila. More than 500 large and small vehicles run on the road every day.
A 14-month survey conducted by the Creative Conservation Alliance, a private research organisation, seven years ago showed that some 503 reptiles were killed by vehicles on the link road during that period.
Shahariar Caesar, one of the researchers of the organisation, said he had done a field survey for 298 days during those 14 months.
"A considerable number of carcasses were not found as fox and other mammals ate those. Also, some animals enter the dense forest after sustaining injuries in accidents and later die there. So, accurate data on the number of deaths are not available," he told The Business Standard.
Shahariar said the death figures were still valid now even though the survey was carried out seven years ago.
"We regularly collect information from research and survey groups coming to the park. From that, we can say an estimated three animals die in unwanted accidents in the park every day," he added.
Monayem Hossain, forest department's Sreemangal range officer of the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division, told The Business Standard 32 animal species were killed by trains and speedy vehicles in 2019.
"Of those, 20 were reptiles or snakes, and 12 were mammals," he said.
Wild animals are generally active when it is dark. They become victims of fatal accidents when they see lights of vehicles and stop while crossing the road.
General Secretary of Kamalganj Biodiversity Conservation Committee Ahad Mia said animals were killed not only by automobiles and trains.
"Endangered bats and monkeys are also believed to have died after jumping onto uncovered electric cables crossing the park," he said.
Tanvir Ahmed Saikat, who visited the park six times in 2019 to do a survey on hoolock gibbon (ulluk), said he found 28 dead bodies of animals ran over by trains and vehicles.
A team of researchers from Jagannath University's zoology department conducted a survey on reptiles killed in accidents in the park between September 2017 and February 2018.
Md Salauddin, one of the team members, said they visited the park five times during that period and found a total of 221 bodies.
"We also went to the park one day during the monsoon out of curiosity. It was not part of the survey. That day, we found 165 carcasses," he added.
Lawachara Khasia Punji resident Saju Marchiang said he often sees multiple carcasses lying on roads. "All those animals were ran over by vehicles."
In a bid to protect biodiversity of the area, the 1,250-hectare park was declared a national park back in 1996. The park is the habitat of 460 species – 167 plant species, four amphibian species, six reptile species, 246 bird species, 20 mammal species, 17 insect species, and 20 rare and endangered species.
Pangolin is one of the park's inhabitants that was declared critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Environmentalists suggested moving the rail lines and the link road from the forest area to prevent unwanted animal deaths and to protect the biodiversity of the park.
Wildlife activists said they had long been calling on the authorities to take measures for preventing animal deaths caused by train and automobile accidents but to no avail.
Sreemangal Lawachara Forest and Biodiversity Conservation Andolon convener Joly Paul said, "We have long been demanding that the link road be moved from the park, and a minister said a few days ago that it would be done."
He said the security of the animals could be ensured by erecting nets if necessary but that had not been done yet.
"We are no longer interested in hearing verbal assurance. This is our demand: Move the road from the forest and the rail route should be diverted to plain lands," he added.
The Forest Department said it had sent a proposal to the higher authorities for moving the road outside the park.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, president of the standing committee on the forest, environment and climate change ministry, discussed with local forest department officials the proposal for shifting the link road during a recent visit to the park.
He told them the issue would be presented to the committee.
Abdul Wadud, divisional forest officer of the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division, told The Business Standard the decision to move the link from the forest had not been made yet.
"We are trying to reach an effective solution to prevent such unwanted deaths of wild animals," he added.