Animal instinct

Namira Hossain writes about the efforts of the Creative Conservation Alliance that is trying to conserve natural resources and wildlife in rural areas

pe1Humans by nature are destructive creatures. We wage wars, pollute our cities and our rivers, destroy forests and ruthlessly hunt other species of animals for their meat, fur or just simply for sport. If numbers on Wikipedia are anything to go by, the rate at which animals are being driven to extinction are quite alarming. It states that Bangladesh is home to 53 species of amphibians, 19 species of marine reptiles, 139 species of reptiles, 380 species of birds, 116 species of mammals and five species of marine mammals. A majority of these animals have completely disappeared from the country and a further 201 are threatened. As the population of the country increases, so does pressure on the different habitats of these animals.
‘I don’t like people much, that’s why I like to study animals,’ says Shahriar Caesar, with a wry smile. Caesar founded the Python Project in 2011, which focused its’ concentration on studying the large snakes and other reptiles – tracking them through radio telemetry, or tiny little tracking devices the size of pencil batteries. ‘We never used to know anything about these animals – what they eat, where they live,’ he states. Tracking them through a non-invasive procedure enables Caesar and his team to gauge an idea of their lifestyles.
However, Caesar quickly came to realise it wasn’t enough to simply focus on the pythons and that he needed to look at the bigger picture. Enter the Creative Conservation Alliance, or the CCA. Their flagship project is being implemented in three districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts where little work has been done thus far on maintaining biodiversity. It is home to 11 different ethnic groups and the environment is marred by complex political situations. It is also known as the Indo-Burma hotspot.

Parabiologists taking measurement from a giant tortoise (Manouria emys)

Parabiologists taking measurement from a giant tortoise (Manouria emys)

The work carried out by the Creative Conservation Alliance is simple. They have created a rapport and cultivated trust with the locals in order to preserve the surrounding environment. The locals need to hunt for sustenance, but along with that they also burn acres of forests in order to grow rice. It goes without saying that this has devastating effects on the ecosystem that exists there and also causes more environmental damage such as rivers running dry. So in order to combat these cultural practices that are so ingrained in their lifestyles, the CCA had to take a more innovative approach.
They came to realise that they could not just walk into the lives of the locals and expect them to change their habits without providing something else in return. In a poor country such as Bangladesh, the majority do not have issues with cruelty to animals or environmental issues simply because they believe that as a nation entrenched in extreme poverty, we have bigger problems on our hands. So the CCA established a number of conservation schools, where the children are taught the ideals of conservation and why it is important for them to preserve the land as well as the animals on the land. Caesar notes, ‘the locals are completely dependent on nature for their livelihood – we need the children to be aware of these issues, otherwise they will never stop hunting.’

Critically Endangered Arakan Forest Turtle

Critically Endangered Arakan Forest Turtle

So they are taught about the different species which are endangered in order to prevent them from being hunted further. Alongside this, the locals are also taught to make crafts from natural resources which they sell for an income. But the most important contribution of the CCA is the creation of the parabiologists. The locals are privy to a lot of traditional knowledge which comes to their aid as the CCA trains them on how to use motion sensor cameras, how to catch and measure the animals and then to let them go, and only to hunt animals that are not endangered.
Caesar explains that they are motivated by hunger, so before they would eat what they catch. But as the CCA teaches them and empowers them, sustainability on these lands becomes a more realistic prospect. Through the help of the parabiologists, the CCA has been able to record sightings of many different species which were believed to be extinct before such as the Clouded Leopard, Asiatic Black Bear, Gaur (declared extinct in 2000), Dhole amongst others. ‘People see themselves as outside of nature, but we are not. We can only save our earth by empowering the people and giving them more value,’ declares Caesar.

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