Water crisis hits Lawachhara wildlife hard


The animals don’t just need water for drinking, but they also have a need to bathe and play in it. Photo: Star

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The animals don’t just need water for drinking, but they also have a need to bathe and play in it. Photo: Star

Winter is a difficult time for animals that reside in Moulvibazar’s Lawachara rain forest. As its streams run dry, quite rapidly, at the onset of the cold season, its diverse range of inhabitants don’t have an option but to look for water elsewhere.

But this is not just related to winter. According to a forest department official, the forest never faced a water crisis even three decades ago, but rampant deforestation over the years has led to soil erosion in the forest, which ends up in the streams and reduces their capacity for water retention drastically.

Besides thirst, this creates another problem for the wild animals. Starved of water, they often make forays into nearby villages under Kamalganj upazila. But far from being welcomed, they’re regularly treated with hostility.

Saju Marchiang, a tourist guide of Lawachhara forest, told this correspondent that around 15-16 streams serve as the main source of water for the wild animals, zig-zagging along the forest through areas such as Jankichhara, Depalchhara, Jagchhara and Bagmarachhara.

According to the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department in Sylhet, the 1,250 hectares of forest land is home to rare, endangered and even nearly-extinct animals, including gibbons, various species of snakes, junglefowl, pangolins, barking deer, fishing cats, wild boar leopards, squirrels, king cobras, pythons and more.

Talking to The Daily Star, Swapan Deb Sajal, director of Bangladesh Banya Prani Sheba Foundation (Bangladesh Wild Animal Care Foundation), said, “We rescue around 100 injured animals from the areas surrounding Lawachhara every year, especially during the dry season.”

“The animals don’t just need water for drinking, but they also have a need to bathe and play in it,” he informed.

On the other hand, residents of the villages adjacent to Lawachhara say their hands are tied too. “Wild animals, including panthers, start coming near our villages in search of water during this season. We only act in self-defence,” said Sadek Mia, one such resident of a nearby village.

Md Nurul Mohmain Milton, general secretary of Environmentalist Journalist Forum, thinks there’s a role for the government to play here. “Deforestation is the main cause for the forest’s food and water woes,” he said.

“As the eroded soil ends up in the streams, they go almost completely dry between October and April. The government should have this in consideration and make arrangements accordingly to ensure neither the animals nor the villagers suffer,” he added.

Convener of Lawachara Forest and Biodiversity Protection Movement Joly Paul told this correspondent, “This forest is very important for the environment, ecology and biodiversity of this region. The shortage of water is leading some of the animals to go extinct! Authorities concerned should dig ponds in the forest to retain water and protect the wildlife.”

She suggested putting up temporary embankments in the streams, for five to six months a year, in order to help retain water for the animals.

Contacted, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, divisional forest officer of the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department in Sylhet, said, “We have already set up two water reservoirs in the forest area and have sent proposals to build more.”

However, ecology and biodiversity conservation researcher Pavel Partha said he doesn’t think much of the department’s initiatives. “The two ponds by the forest department is nothing for such a huge forest,” he said.

He said the government needs to study the forest’s water geography and address the reasons behind the drought, namely unplanned excavation, rubber plantation,  development, sand extraction and more.





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