Feature Img
Gayals or semi wild bison (Bos Frontalis) herded by Adibashi villagers in the Reinkhyong Reserved Forest, Chittagong Hill Tracts.  Photo: Subrata Chakma
Gayals or semi wild bison (Bos Frontalis) herded by Adibashi villagers in the Reinkhyong Reserved Forest, Chittagong Hill Tracts. Photo: Subrata Chakma

On 19 June 2011 a national English daily reported that our honourable State Minister for Environment and Forests, Dr Hasan Mahmud, is planning to introduce hippopotami, imported from Africa, into the Kaptai Lake area of Rangamati, in the semi-autonomous region of Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The Minister, who got the idea during a recent visit to Kenya, was reported as saying, “if we can have hippos in the Kaptai Lake, it will draw many tourists and add a new species to our biodiversity.”

* * *

Dr Mahmud, who has completed his post graduation on environmental science and has a PhD degree on Environmental Chemistry (i), seems to have forgotten about the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that Bangladesh signed on 5th June 1992 and ratified on 3rd May 1994 (ii). The convention sets a clear bar against states to introduce ANY non-indigenous species in to the local habitat where this is harmful.

Article 8 of the Convention states (amongst other relevant provisions) (iii): “Each Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate:

(h) Prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species.”

A similar provision also occurs in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan of 2004 (page vi).

We should draw lessons from the past on how alien species disrupted the CHT ecology. The first was teak, imported from Myanmar by the colonial Forest Department in the 1880. Mono teak plantations of the Department are still causing soil erosion, and biodiversity loss. The same happened with eucalyptus, which still do not attract our Bangladeshi birds. Introduction of the Tilopia in the Kaptai Lake has been condemned for the extinction of several species of fish and other marine life.

* * *

Furthermore, this grand idea will need hipps (read heaps) of money to see its fruition. The news item also reported: “While inspecting the construction of a road by the lake, Hasan said the ministry has enough money in the Climate Change fund to buy hippos.”

To invest Climate Change money to further worsen ecological imbalance is hardly justifiable. Enayetur Rahim, personal assistant to the minister added to the reporter: “A pair of hippos will cost around Taka 40 lakhs.”

Of course, Tk 40 lakhs per pair is peanuts for a country like ours!

On a less sarcastic note, when will GOB stop this kata ghaye noon chorano policy? Why Kaptai lake, where so much blood of humans and animals has already been spilled?

Needless to say, it will be extremely difficult to maintain the habitat of hippos in an alien environment — the CHT is different from Kenya, unless the minister saw otherwise. We would need experts, caretakers and maybe even those species of plants that hippos are partial to? After all, we would not want under-fed and unhappy hippos staring into the lenses of the visitors’ Minoltas, Nikons and cell-phone cameras!  How about a hippo hospital as well?  This would surely irk the human denizens of the lake area whose ancestral homes, by the way, were devoured by the same lake in 1960, who crowd the understaffed and under-equipped Rangamati Sadar hospital.

* * *

For those of us who seem to ignore facts, it is never too late to be reminded that CHT is already a rich mega-biodiversity zone of Bangladesh. Why not focus and take measures to safeguard the opulence of our OWN species? Of the 75 species of mammals, 100 species of birds, 25 species of reptiles, and 7 species of amphibians, almost all the denizens of our forests are facing habitat and species loss due to several factors (not excluding our Adibashis). The CHT has elephants, bison (Bos Frontalis and Bos Gaurus), Bengal tigers (largely threatened and on the verge of extinction), various species of leopards (also known as panther), deer (several species, including the near-extinct hog deer or Axis Porcinus and the widely threatened sambhur or Cervus unicolor), wild dog (one of the few places in the world to have them and again threatened), wild boar, lizards, snakes (including python, cobra and viper), hornbill (two species), thrush, drongo, egret, parakeet, mynah — just to name a few. The rhinoceros, porpoise and several other species of mammals and birds are now extinct.

* * *

Since our honourable minister seems to be so amused by the hippos, we propose that the Forest Department wardens keep the hippos in their bathtubs or maybe a pond with imported African clay and slush, to indulge in a gargantuan jolokeli as work and play.

We may never know the real reason behind the proposed unjustified use of scarce funds available to us. One may think it is the notion of ‘exoticness,’ in the potential scene of indigenous children playing with ‘foreign’ semi-aquatic mammals — that caught the imagination of our minister to believe that it will give a tourist boost to the sluggish CHT economy.

In reality, those imported hippos will serve nothing but draw the perfect parallel of the miserable conditions of the Bengali settlers of the cluster villages in the Hill Tracts — who too were brought there to live in an alien environment.

But most importantly, why should we attract ‘tourists’ with ‘foreign’ species? Isn’t our own Shonar Bangla not shujola shuphola shoshsho shamola enough for our government?

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Wasfia Nazreen is a development practitioner, a multi-disciplinary researcher and a member of DRISHTIPAT Writers’ Collective.

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(i) Bio, Mohammad Hasan Mahmud, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh, http://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/microsites/IDM/workshops/migrant_human_rights_032509/bios_mahmud.html

(ii) Convention on Biological Diversity, Country Profile: Bangladesh, http://www.cbd.int/countries/?country=bd see also for hardcopy: www.iomenvis.in/pdf_documents/ratification-cbd.pdf

(iii) Article 8. In-situ Conservation, http://www.cbd.int/convention/articles/?a=cbd-08

13 Responses to “Of hippos and endangered indigenous denizens”

  1. Muttakillah

    Dear All,
    For those who think our ministers, bureaucrats or other decision makers are plain stupid to come up with a farcical idea like introducing hippos in Kaptai Lake, I tell you, “It’s Economics Stupid!”

    It has always been like that! With any defence for the minister himself, for all we know, it may well have been that someone, somewhere, within the grand circle of vested interests which surround him, may have given him this ‘brilliant’ idea to ‘diversify’ the ecology and making a name for himself in the eyes of the local people.

    In between, that someone, somewhere, would be making a bit of political ‘dough’ from the 40 lakh that would be spent initially, not to mention contracts on taking care of them. Hope I could put some perspective on it.

    Well written Ms. Wasfia.

  2. Dhiman Khisa

    I am feeling so utterly desolate and miserable by the idiotic thought of the honourable state minister. I find it a strange logic that in the name of biodiversity and seeking interest for tourists he wants to introduce hippos in Kaptai Lake.

    It is suicidal to turn a blind eye to the reality. I would like to mention that the CHT is full of wonderful things like green forests, clear streams and a variety of wildlife. One can never get tired of those. Once there was no trace of artificial sophistication in the region and it was a rich mega-biodiversity zone of Bangladesh. It still has a lot to encourage one to visit Kaptai Lake. But this magic land is losing its wonderful beauty and biodiversity day by day due to government-backed massive infiltration of Bengali people from plain lands.

    It is really sad that no government of Bangladesh has so far taken any adequate measure to preserve the natural beauty and safeguard our own species of wild and aquatic life of the CHTs. It is amazing that instead of taking a measure to stop ruining diversity in the CHTs, the honourable minister is thinking of importing hippos!

    If such thoughts are encouraged, soon there will be a huge necropolis of local species while the biodiversity of the region will be ruined. Such foreign species transfer is nothing but a disguised invasion against the local species. The same is the case with the Jummo people of CHTs, how they have been evicted and dispossessed by the Bengali settlers who were transferred into the region with the help of the armed forces and encouragement of the government.

  3. Kaingwai Mro

    The writer, Wasfia Nazreen, has written a fantastic article for the kind attention of our honourable State Minister for Environment and Forests. After reading this article, I hope the relevant people will realise that it is hazardous and non-echo-friendly to import foreign species in the CHT areas.

    I do agree with the writer that there are many foreign trees, for example, teak, eucalyptus, rubber plantations that cause huge soil erosion in the Chittagong Hill Tracts which are of course not environment friendly either.

    We need to carry out a lot of research, hold discussions etc. before decisions like this could be taken.

    Many thanks to Wasfia Nazreen for writing on this important topic. Please carry on.

  4. Baby Bawm

    Dear Wasfia,
    Thank you for raising such a significant issue. Why a minister is targeting Kaptai Lake in CHT? Why not other lake or other area?

    Dear, honourable minister you should protect CHT people and their rights. You could draw a lot of tourists with our heritage and animals that Sonar Bangla already have; hippos are obviously not one of those.

  5. Tandra Chakma

    Why our policymakers prefer foreign animals and foreign species only? Why do we plant foreign trees, which are not suitable for our soil?

    I do not know why we are not taking care of our own trees and animals.

    If I were a policymaker, I would nurture our own plants and animals by all means.

  6. rafiq

    Our honorable sate minister seems to be infatuated with foreign stuff like – hippopotami, conoco – philips, foreign ships, etc. -)))

  7. Wali

    “For those of us who seem to ignore facts, it is never too late to be reminded that CHT is already a rich mega-biodiversity zone of Bangladesh. Why not focus and take measures to safeguard the opulence of our OWN species? Of the 75 species of mammals, 100 species of birds, 25 species of reptiles, and 7 species of amphibians, almost all the denizens of our forests are facing habitat and species loss due to several factors (not excluding our Adibashis). The CHT has elephants, bison (Bos Frontalis and Bos Gaurus), Bengal tigers (largely threatened and on the verge of extinction), various species of leopards (also known as panther), deer (several species, including the near-extinct hog deer or Axis Porcinus and the widely threatened sambhur or Cervus unicolor), wild dog (one of the few places in the world to have them and again threatened), wild boar, lizards, snakes (including python, cobra and viper), horn-bill (two species), thrush, drongo, egret, parakeet, mynah — just to name a few. The rhinoceros, porpoise and several other species of mammals and birds are now extinct.”

    The above quotation from Wasfia’s magnificent and thought provoking article is for the honorable minister’s kind attention. The ‘enough’ fund that he claims to have should be spent for the purpose mentioned in the quote. Only then will we shout and say, “Sabash Poribesh Montri Mohodoy”!

  8. Towfique

    Thanks indeed for your write up on the issue. There are people in all governments and policy making who pretend to understand everything giving little attention to what people think from a more sensitive perspective. It is a ploy of those to rip corrupt agenda to accumulate personal benefits that they are always inclined to mix up with nation’s interest.

    It is, thus, not a functional democracy, as these people have little or no tolerance to voices heard in between the elections and are too arrogant irrespective of age and experience.

  9. muntasir

    Dear writer,

    1. Can you just put the link of source as reference for this para:

    “For those of us who seem to ignore facts, it is never too late to be reminded that CHT is already a rich mega-biodiversity zone of Bangladesh. Why not focus and take measures to safeguard the opulence of our OWN species? Of the 75 species of mammals, 100 species of birds, 25 species of reptiles, and 7 species of amphibians, almost all the denizens of our forests are facing habitat and species loss due to several factors (not excluding our Adibashis). The CHT has elephants, bison (Bos Frontalis and Bos Gaurus), Bengal tigers (largely threatened and on the verge of extinction), various species of leopards (also known as panther), deer (several species, including the near-extinct hog deer or Axis Porcinus and the widely threatened sambhur or Cervus unicolor), wild dog (one of the few places in the world to have them and again threatened), wild boar, lizards, snakes (including python, cobra and viper), hornbill (two species), thrush, drongo, egret, parakeet, mynah — just to name a few. The rhinoceros, porpoise and several other species of mammals and birds are now extinct.”

    2. Is there any Gayals around Kaptai Lake? What other species we may find around the area?

    Thanks
    Muntasir

    • Tandra Chakma

      No need for a link. Read the books written by our colonial rulers and I heard from my father and from my grand parents that near my dada bari there is a big forest, where Royal Bengal Tigers lived and they sometime came to snatch cow from the village.

      There are so many others who can describe all these fairy tales.

    • wasfia

      Dear Muntasir,

      Pls see the following books for your queries:

      Gain, Philip, 2006. Stolen Forests, SEHD, Dhaka (p. 40)

      Ishaq, Muhammed, 1975. Bangladesh District Gazetteers: Chittagong Hill Tracts, Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, Dhaka

      Roy, Raja Devasish, 2000. “Occupations and Economy in Transition: A Case Study of the Chittagong Hill Tracts”, in ILO, Traditional Occupations of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, ILO, Geneva ( pp. 98, 117)

      And NO, Gayals are from uplands and highlands, not near lake area.

  10. Zakaria

    The most destructive of all imported species so far has been African Catfish. They eat everything on their way and destroy all local fish where they live.

    By the way, those vegetarian Hippos kill more people than any other animals on earth.

  11. Steven Miller

    Thank you, Ms. Wasfia. We should first protect what we have; when we can’t even protect what we have, how can we protect external things. And a pair of hippos will be costing Tk 40 lakhs; sucha a wastage of money!

    Every year Bangladesh faces natural disasters, the honourable minister should look into that and do something for the displaced people and construct drainage for the flood water to flow rapidly.

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