Although Bangladesh is a very small country, nature has blessed it with varied wildlife biodiversity (flora and fauna). Biodiversity is the diversity, frequency and variety in genes, species and ecosystems in the biosphere. From the zoo-geographical point of view Bangladesh is at the junction of the Indo-Himalays and Indo-China sub-regions, one of the few countries where the species of two bio-geographic realms overlap. Bangladesh, with its warm and humid climate, forms diverse ecosystems which support tremendous biodiversity. According to IUCN,Bangladesh is a home of 1952 species of invertebrates, 49 species of amphibians, 154 species of reptiles, 128 species of mammals and a total 706 bird species.
Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary was established through a Gazette notification of March 18, 1986 by the Bangladesh Forest Department under the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Order, 1973 as the country's third oldest sanctuary. Located at 70 km south from Chittagong city and is managed under the newly created Wildlife and Nature Conservation Division. The total area of Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary is 7764 ha under two ranges namely Chunati and Jaldi. Chunati belongs to the tropical evergreen and semi evergreen forest biogeographic zone, representative of the biodiversity of southeastern region of the country, with hilly to mountain areas ranging from 30-90 meters in elevation. A study on faunal diversity of Chunaticonducted by Arannayk Foundation in 2014 revealed that, it's a home of 110 species of invertebrates, 26 species of amphibians, 54 species of reptiles, 40 species of mammals and a total 252 bird species. Another study ofArannayk Foundation revealed that, the Wildlife Sanctuary harbours diverse floral resources i.e. 691 plant species including 240 trees, 102 shrubs, 211 herbs, 106 climbers, 19 ferns, 7 epiphytes and 6 parasites with a significant occurrence of exotic tree species plantation.
In 2011, provision for conservation and safety of biodiversity, forests and wildlife for the present and future generations by the state has been inserted in article 18A of the Constitution of the people's republic of Bangladesh. All the Protected Areas of Bangladesh including Wildlife Sanctuaries are governed and managed by the Forest Department in accordance with the Wildlife (Preservation and Safety) Act, 2012 which is enactedwith the same object as enshrined in the Constitution; and which repealed the previous Wildlife (Preservation) Order, 1973. Section 2(1) of the Act defines wildlife sanctuary as an area where capturing, killing, shootingor trapping of wildlife is prohibited; and which is managed for the conservation of all natural resources such as vegetation, soil and water mainly for undisturbed breeding of wildlife. Section 13 empowers the Government to declare any area as 'wildlife sanctuary' in the light of National Forest Policy and Forestry Master Plan, and considering natural, geomorphological features, biodiversity and environmental significance,specifying the demarcation, for the conservation of forest and habitat of wildlife.
Under this mandate till now Government has declared 20 areas as wildlife sanctuary. Section 14 of the Act strictly prohibits following activities in any wildlife sanctuary as no person shall- (a) cultivate any land; (b) establish or undertake any industrial operation; (c) harvest, destroy or collect any plant; (d) set any kind of fire; (e) enter into a sanctuary with any weapon without the permission of the Chief Warden or the officer authorized by him in this behalf; (f) disturb or threat any wildlife, or use chemicals, explosives or any other weapon or substances which may destroy wildlife habitat; (g) introduce any exotic animal or plant; (h) introduce any domestic animal or allow any domestic animal to stray; (i) dump any materials detrimental to wildlife; (j) explore or dig for extraction of minerals; (k) fell any plant or part thereof except silvicultural operations required for natural regeneration of plants; (l) divert, stop or pollute watercourse; or(m) introduce any alien and invasive plant species.Any person who commits any prohibited activities mentioned in section 14, he will be regarded as he has committed the offence and he will be non-bailable for such offence and shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 2 (two) years or fine which may extend to 1 (one) lac Taka or with both and for the repetition of same offence he shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 5 (five) years or fine which may extend to 4 (four) lac Taka or with both.
Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the best wildlife habitats even in the beginning of 90's and only because of indiscriminate human interference the whole natural wildlife habitat has been destroyed. Natural forest of Chunati has now almost wiped out just leaving some patches of bushes, scrubs and some monoculture plantations. Many of the wildlife species are under tremendous threat, some are locally extinct, and some are still fighting for their survival. All threats regarding wildlife of this sanctuary are anthropogenic and major threats of these are betel leaf cultivation, fuel wood collection, agricultural expansion, livestock grazing, human settlement and brickfields. Although all the above mentioned activities are prohibited and punishable under the Wildlife (Preservation and Safety) Act, 2012. We are looking forward for strict compliance of these legal provisions for the conservation of biodiversity inBangladesh and for the protection of the Mother Earth.
Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal is a law student of Dhaka University and recently visited the Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary