#thenewscompany : Studies carried out by the author during 2008-2018 through a series of wildlife expeditions and through making video documentaries of wild flora and fauna revealed that there exists at least 7 Important Biodiversity Areas (IBA) in Chittagong Hill Biome and all those sites qualify the criteria of IUCN PA category II and III and also fulfils the Protected Area criteria of Bangladesh Wildlife (Conservation & Security) Act, 2012.
In addition during 2018 an11-membered team of Isabela Foundation headed by its Chairperson Mr. Kabir Bin Anwar, traversed Sanguvalley and identified new areas of conservation significance . Very recently Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) an NGO re- discovered rare and threatened wildlife like Golden cat, Malayan Sun Beer, Binturong, Flying Squirrel, Wild dog, Gaur, Land Tortoise, Sylhet-roofed turtle, Wild goat, Sambar deer, Greater Pied Hornbill, Python, gibbons, langurs, Leaf monkeys and rare palms from Sangu Hills. CCA is practicing Community-based nature conservation and protection of threatened wildlife in Sangu hills and they also highly recommended and urged the government to give special attention to sangu hills for protecting the last pristine refuge of mega wildlife of CHT before it perish.
Hill biome of Chittagong is one of the important biodiversity constituent of the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspots. New and rare biodiversity rich cave ecosystems, upland wetlands are discovered; 10 new wildlife species is also recorded for the country for the first time; discovered and occurrence of rare wild genome and wild relatives of figs, mangoes, rattans, ginger, orchids and palms at CHT. The occurrence and sighting records of rare and globally threatened insects, butterflies, tarantula, frogs, fish, skink, turtles and tortoises, snakes, birds and mammals in all those sites of Chittagong Hill biome is a great attribute of hill ecosystems. Hill stream and gorges biota having specialized adaptation and represent natural evolutionary process uninterrupted.
Nature and natural resources conservation is a dire need to maintain ecological balance and survival of human being. To conserve nature and save our precious wild flora and fauna, in Bangladesh a total of 38 protected areas established under the wildlife (conservation and security) Act 2012 and 11 Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) under ECA rules by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). All these areas are selected by using global protected categories of IUCN.
But most of the Protected Areas (PAs) are not properly represented the diverse natural heritage and wilderness areas of our country. Some of the PA s are degraded and destroyed to a greater extent. For example the Sal forest PA s like Madhupur and Bhawal National Parks, Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary,Himchari National Park and Teknaf Protected Area. Some PA sjust became islands surrounded by massive structural development areas. Despite the facts, still there are areas having high biodiversity value and wilderness significance demands protected area status. This is the high time to protect these areas for saving rare wild genome having both ecological as well as economical important. Very recently the authors organized expeditions in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats throughout the country. Important among them are:Thegamukh, Bogakain Lake, Sangu,Sazek Valley, Swatch of No Ground and Haor basin.
Hillscapes of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are medium elevated ranges interspersed by low-lying valleys with inter-connected hill streams, gorges and rivers. These ranges are covered with tropical semi-evergreen forest and reedlands along the rivers and lakes. CHT is located at the cross roads of Indo-Burma and Indo-Himalayans sub-regions of the oriental biogeographic region. Geographically the region is bordering with Indian state of Tripura and Mijoram in the north and with the Rakhain/ Akyab.
The potential sites for new PAs areSajek Valley, Ruangchari,Bangchari, BogakainLake,andRamacree hills and falls,AmiakhumSangu Reserve forest, Upper Catchment of Sangu River, GangadhanChara, BhusanChara, MuriaHaor, PashuaHaor, Naf Estuary, Part of Sarigoyian and Pyian river, Char Kalikiny and Char Jonak.Aforesid newareas are qualified both national global criteria of PA and considering their state of naturalness and richness in biodiversity deserves special attention for including all those sites as PA. The existing management of the strict protected areas is not working properly. Some of the PA s is just like isolated islands. All surrounding are either encroached or land use changed from its original forested land.
In recent years, I had visited our hill areas very frequently. The main purpose of my visit is to record biological diversity of the hills and forest ecosystems. During Pakistan regime the WWF had organized an expedition in the CHT headed by great Naturalist Mr. Guy Montfort. Seeing the degradation of the forest during that expedition, he wrote a book entitled “The Vanishing Jungle”. Hundreds of hill streams join together and gives raise several rivers and rivulets which are very rich in stream dwelling fish and amphibians.
A river originates within Bangla territory runs through hills and finally merged into the Bay of Bengal. Sangu river runs from the east to west .Sangu River is a hill river originated from the Sangu Hills and runs through Andharmanik, Baromodok, Chotomodok, Remacree, Thindu, Thanchi, Ruma, Bandarban and merged with Matahmuhuri river and finally falls into Bay of Bengal.
Water are transparent with high current during monsoon but shallow in lean period all along except few duars/kums. These duars are the deepest hole of the river and the fish winter there as refuge. Hill stream fishes use these duars as the breeding ground. Both the banks of the river are enclaves by medium to high hill ranges. River bottom could be seen clearly by naked eyes. River bed is mostly sandy mixed with pebbles and swimming juveniles of fishes. At all meandering a wide veranda of rolling stones covered with aquatic weeds and dense deep green algae. The colonies of RakataKarobi forms bushes and the butterflies and dragon flies are making their nuptial flight over the bushes. Bank dwelling birds were seen feeding insects and water bugs along the spiral bended of the river. Commonly seen birds are Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Warbler, Pied Bush chat, White-throated Kingfisher and Striated Munia. Left bank where the hill wall rises straight to the sky. The walls of the hill are multicolored because of the growth of moss, lichen, ferns and climbers. We saw a nice hanging reed plants with pink colored flower. This reed plant is a hanging orchid grows on the moist hill walls deep inside forest. Flowers are brilliant pink color. Local name of this ground orchid is “Nalrasna”. This plant grows on wall of hills at high altitude. The associates are ferns, grasses, vines and creepers which forms multicolored velvety mosaic on the hill walls.
Nectar feeding birds are seen hovering over the flowers of epiphytes. Flame-backed flycatcher, long-billed purple Sunbird, Fire-breasted Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivet and Spider Hunter were seen in this specialized ecological niche.
The water is falling slowly along the jig jag path. There are steps of uneven rocks/boulders, small to medium waterholes are full of tadpoles. These small pools are good abode of frogs and tiny fishes. We saw crustaceans, water bugs, snails and dragonflies in good numbers. Among the frogs the species are: Tree frogs, Balloon frogs, Painted frogs, Micro hyla and cricket frogs. Deep inside forest the pool water is stagnant and full of large quantities of fallen leaves. Rotten leaves are the source of food of the pool dwelling wildlife.
It’s cool, shady and culm inside the stream. Evergreen plants with their leafed branches forms green roof over the stream. Spiders made their nets in between two tree ferns. Sandstone of different sizes rolls in the water. We heard calls of whistling thrush and squirrel up above the stream. Forktail bird with their contrasting black and white color is feeding on the insects of the stream. The tail is waving up and down with clearly defined rhythms.
Chorus of Racket-tailed drongo’s were listened together with other mixed-hunting party members. Other members are: Ashy drongo, Necklaced babbler and Fan-tail flycatcher. In the forest a group of birds belonging to different species forms hunting party. This group used hunt preys together whether flying insects, butterflies, moths, mosquitoes or aphids. There are two shrews crossing the stream and searching food here and there.
After a long search in the valley, we saw a group of Assamese Macaque and Pig-tailed macaque roaming on the middle canopy of the forest. The groups were feeding tender leaves which are very scarce. Assamese Macaque and Pig-tailed macaque both are rare primate is still surviving in Sangu Valley. In Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) most of the feeding trees are cut downed for timber logging both legally and illegally.
One of the rare findings of recent Isabela organized trip at CHT is locating Black Pine. I was curious about Black pine while working on a CITES guide book for Bangladesh in 1990. Dr. Ansarul Karim, Professor of Botany, Chittagong University wrote the chapter of CITES guide book on threatened plants of Bangladesh those are in international trade. He told me about the pine plants rarity and its medicinal values. From that time I got interested to locate this plant from Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Whenever and wherever in CTH, I had visited, I searched for the pine but utterly failed to find this rare plant.
I am a wildlife biologist but in my honors course, my subsidiary subjects was Chemistry and Botany. In a later time while working with two famous Botanist, Professor Dijen Sharma and Professor Salar Khan I was inspired to learn more about our rare plants. When I use to go field to study wildlife, I always look into the vegetation in detail. Vegetation is one of the basic ecological component of wildlife habitat. Wildlife use plants as their home, food, security and many other needs fulfilled from the plants. Great Ornithologist Salim Ali said that seeing t a bird separating from its host plant is not enough to know the bird, you required to tell about the plants which was the bird used, taxonomic identification and detail ecology of the plant, only then you became a birder. Dr. Salim Ali defined this way of studying the bird as Field Ornithology and he who added a new section of Ornithology which is known as Ornithophily. The evolution and adaptation of long down curved beaks and bills of pollen and honey eating birds like sunbirds, spider hunter is correlated and evolved closely with the epiphytes, orchids and some other parasitic plants. Dr. Mohammed Ali Reza Khan, a student of Salim Ali also taught me the same through my lifelong wildlife watch with him. Together with Professor Salar Khan and Dr. Ansarul Karim, we searched for rare plants Bangladesh like Rauvolfiaserpentia(Sarpagandha), Salix tetrasperma (Indian Willow) and Rosa involucrata (Bengal Rose), WilloughbeiedulisRoxb.(Wild Mango) and Wild Palm and able to identify their habitat and population status.
During theexpedition ofFebruary and March 2018, in Chittagong Hill Tracts, organized by Isabela Foundation we came across the main habitat of Black Pine and having a good population.
Black pine Podocarpusnerriifolius occurs along the Sangu Hill River just on the banks as well as on the dried river beds where the bottom is covered with stones and pebbles. Density is higher at upper elevation of the river where the hill streams fall into main river course. Associated species are RaktaKarobi. Average height is Black pin Bangladesh about 2 meters. The plants here are like hedges, dwarf and bushy in habit. The prominent sorrow scene of the bank of the river is tobacco cultivation. One multi-national tobacco company has been engaged in motivating, organizing the local community in this practice since long through a comprehensive package. This cultivation of tobacco in hill valleys and river valleys are reducing winter crop cultivation to a greater extent. This posing an additional threat to the hill biodiversity by uncovering the natural shrub lands/forest. Excessive water is being extracted from the hill streams to irrigate the tobacco field.
They also took lease of huge hill ranges in the name of afforestation which is nothing but monoculture forestry. They are planting rapid growing fire fuel timber plants importing from abroad. All these are exotic plants are detrimental to local natural environment. All these short rotation plants after harvest are using in their tobacco burn to treating Flue Cured Virginia (FCV). According to local vendors of the company, most of the FCV are exporting outside after meeting their local factory demands. It is to be noted that growing tobacco is banned in some countries. Hence they are happy to grow tobacco here in Bangladesh in the name of development and helping poor people. Although it is spring season during the Isabela expedition (March) but at Andharmanik gorges in Sangu reserve forest, the weather is just as winter with shivering temperature and fogs seen covered all around. My binocular frost with mist, can’t see anything. We a group of eleven membered Isabela team entered into a hill gorges in Sangu hills on 1st of March 2018. This gorges is located at an elevation of nearly 500 meters AVSl, the gorges is very cool, shady and rich in evergreen forest’s flora and fauna. Bat colony is disturbed by our presence, the venomous Tarantula with tiger band in its thorax and abdomen was annoyed, leaf turtles was crawling and hiding beyond old rotten leaves of Dipterocarps (garjan), dampen moisturized cave dwelling moss, fern, lichen and other lower group of flora just covered the gorges stony walls which look likes green carpets. Mock viper is hanging on the wall of gorges looking for frogs and other prey. Kabir Bin Anwar our Team leader whispers and put cautions about our safety and keeping quite while nature walk at cave and gorges. It was really a thrilling moment when we encountered a group of mole rushed around us. We saw rare forktail and Malabar whistling thrush birds with its call and nice flight. Lots of vines and climbers making the gorges environment more primitive. Oldest tree ferns, wild palms, hanging vines are common and indicating the old age of the hills. We found a good numbers of shrimp and stream dwelling fish in the gorges with brilliant, beautiful color. Water droplets are seeping on the stony wall and pure enough to drink. Three species of dancing frogs we encountered and photographed, they are so beautiful and colorful, and Kabir Bin Anwar instantly gave a name of the frog as “ZARNA PARI”. Our hills our pride…. A new approach of Hill Biome Conservation as a new “Biodiversity Conservation Area” (BCA) establishment is the demand of time. It is highly recommended that conservation needs-based strategic action plan for the biodiversity management of all newly identified Important Biodiversity Areas of global significance is an urgent job of the nation.
The author highly acknowledged the support of Channel I, Ekattor Television, Jungle Bari, Bangladesh Forest Department, Bangladesh Border Guard, Local Administration of CHT, Headman’s, Local guides, Dr. Mohammed Ali Reza Khan and Isabela Foundation