Between the months of March and May, 344 wild animals were killed across Bangladesh
At a time when nature lovers are ecstatic seeing pictures from around the world of wild animals wandering around or lounging in urban areas, Bangladesh went the other way, with a spike in cases of cruelty against wildlife.
Photographs of lions or jackals strutting across urban vegetation, herds of deer crossing deserted Japanese streets or grazing on the grass near residential areas in London, grey langurs playing on an empty street or peahens foraging in India's capital city during lockdown paint a picture of a thriving nature.
Some rare Bangladeshi wild animals, whose habitats had been destroyed due to the deforestation and ever expanding urbanization, decided to walk the same path as their global counterparts and showed up in human habitats.
However, instead of producing endearing photographs, the consequences for these animals were brutal and fatal.
According to the Forest Department's Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU), between the months of March and May, 344 wild animals were killed across Bangladesh.
Some animals were poisoned, hanged, severed or brutally lynched, while the killers celebrated, according to various social media posts.
On March 31, Shaheb Ali, Jamal Mia and Kutubuddin of Shrimangal, Moulvibazar district strangled a rhesus macaque (monkey). Later, the killers uploaded a video of the heinous crime on social media.
On May 5, photos of 15 lifeless monkeys lying on the side of a Madaripur village pond emerged on social media feeds. They were allegedly poisoned by one Shahnaz Begum.
A Sylhet Jaintapur youth group of 10 or more members, led by Abdul Halim and Shahriar Ahmed, trapped and lynched six jackals, two fishing cats and a mongoose on May 29. Two photos of the detestable killing spread across social media.
In one of photos, the dead animals were laid on the ground one after the other, like a ghastly display in a wet market, and the other photo captured a bunch of onlookers and a youth flaunting a log - the weapon used to kill them.
Four days later, some youths of Chattagram Banshkhali upazila posted the photos on social media. They killers appear victorious, carrying the lifeless body of a lynched fishing cat over their shoulders.
And most recently, on June 8, Kamruzzaman Faruk from Taltali of Barguna posted a photo of a Kingfisher guarding her six eggs, on his Facebook page. The next photo showed the mother Kingfisher's beheaded body chucked beside her eggs. The photo caption read, "Tried driving the bird away several times but it did not work. So I finally raided its nest."
The animals and the birds mentioned are categorized in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List 2015 either as endangered, threatened or nearly threatened species.
The publicity of destruction to rare wildlife received widespread criticism and negative media coverage. Tipped-off, either by local informers, animal lovers or journalists, the Forest Department jumped to action against the criminals. However, only one criminal of the mentioned incidents – Madaripur's Shahnaz Begum - is now behind bars. Cases have been filed in all the other incidents but the accused are absconding.
WCCU director Jahir Uddin Akon informed The Business Standard that in three months since March, 69 wildlife-related crimes occurred against 674 wild animals and birds.
"Of the 344 killed animals, 49 were killed as food," he said.
In the three months, WCCU rescued 281 live or injured animals. Later, they were provided treatment and released in nature.
Citing the recent cruel murder of a pregnant elephant in India's Kerala, Jahir said that wildlife killing occurs worldwide as they reappear in the territories they lost to human civilization.
Killing wildlife is inhumane. The animals being killed by humans do not cause humans much harm. Rather, they help keep the ecology in balance by preying on creatures harmful to human beings.
WCCU director believes that inclusion of lessons on the importance of wildlife and wildlife crime control laws in the national curriculum can help build awareness among the new generation and curb wildlife-related crimes in the long run.
In 2012, the government enacted the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act. The act strictly prohibits poaching, selling, rearing, trafficking and killing of local wild animals and birds.
"Despite legal actions, wildlife-related crimes remain unchecked as wildlife killers escape exemplary punishment," Jahir said.
Although the WCCU was established eight years ago, all of its expenditure cannot be met by government funds. Moreover, the unit runs with only seven staff. A third of all the wildlife released back to their habitat has come under the supervision of WCCU.
"To curb wildlife-related crimes, strengthening WCCU's grip is crucial," its director opined.
Touhid Parvez Biplob, founder of Bogura Birds Club, however, appreciates WCCU's social media campaign that has helped increase awareness on wildlife conservation.
"The recent incidents of wildlife killing have revealed one consistent trend - the killers are young. At the same time, the law enforcers were informed by other youths. Implementation of laws could bring about small changes in the wildlife killing spree overnight. But awareness programmes would help more," Biplob said.
On May 28, Biplob and his peers from a voluntary organization called Teer rescued four Indian civet kittens from the district's Shajahanpur upazila. Before the rescue, some unidentified locals killed the mother civet who entered human territory in search of food.