As we emerged out of the Lawachara forest into a sunlit Lemon Garden we were thrilled to see a dainty dove standing still on the ground wide-eyed, alert and ready to flee.
It looked strikingly like one of the theatrically posing birds painted by Jakob Bogdani or John Audubon centuries before. It was an elegant male Emerald Dove with a strange silver cap and white wrist-patch advertising its masculinity.
We stood still, swallowed our excitement and looked away pretending to be quite unaware of the dove's presence. We knew that the wary dove would take off and vanish the moment he thought that we were interested in him. He continued to pin us down with a fixed gaze but did not take off, thanks to our talent in acting. Emerald Doves are nervous birds; and more so while foraging on the ground.
Slowly we walked back to hide behind a banana grove and record the incomparable fusion of bright and pastel colours of the gorgeous male. Besides those lovely colours of the feathers his coral-red bill and large engaging eyes could, perhaps, melt the cruellest of hearts. Not so, unfortunately; the Emerald Dove has recently been mercilessly persecuted in Bangladesh for the pet-market.
Lawachara National Park once had hundreds of Emerald Doves. They were the first birds we saw at sunrise foraging in droves on the ground along the main road in those days. And we did not have to move surreptitiously to see or photograph them although it was as much a pleasure to watch those enigmatic doves then as it is now. Now, sadly, a new epithet is added to them - the rare birds.
In the past two decades the dove's population had all but crashed in Lawachara as much as in the rest of the country. That Lemon Garden of the Park offered us a glimpse of the first Emerald Dove over our four-day tour of three national parks in the Sylhet division. Will we see no dove in our visits next year or the year after! It's a dismal thought; but in view of its population trend, not entirely fanciful.
That dismal thought made us grieve almost as much as poet John Keats did when his pet dove died. About that dead dove the young and lamentably short-lived English poet of the Romantic era wrote in a moving poem titled The Dove:
I had a dove, and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving: ...
Sweet little red feet! Why should you die-
Why would you leave me, sweet bird! why?
It will truly be a grievous loss if someday the population of Emerald Dove hits zero in Lawachara National Park; and worse, in all of Bangladesh. But that could happen. Once, we termed it an abundant and widespread resident breeding dove of our country. Now, it is not seen in village groves and Sal forests; and has become a rare bird of the Sundarban and forests of Sylhet and Chittagong divisions.
Once in Inani, an Emerald Dove flew into the glass pane of a resort in front of us. We tried to save the injured bird, but failed. The pain we saw in its deep dark eyes for a few hours was unbearable. But there, we witnessed no more than a single dove perish. Now we have good reasons to fear that the whole population of the Emerald Dove is about to crash in Bangladesh.
There is, however, no reason why we should let such an extirpation of Emerald Dove happen in Bangladesh. These unobtrusive doves need nearly nothing from us for their survival. They feed on berries, seeds and grains growing in the wilderness and raise their scions in the forests. They even regenerate the forest to gradually rebuild their own habitat by spreading seeds in and around the forests.
The number of Emerald Doves has, probably, been declining ever since we started encroaching into our forests. The dove would continue to live in a smaller number that our remnant forests could support. But that is possible because of its demand in the pet market. With growing popularity as a cage-bird the graceful dove is vanishing faster; and the rarer it is in our forest, the greater its value in pet-shop.
Emerald Dove is not a rare bird elsewhere in its limited home range of South and Southeast Asia. It is the state bird of the Indian state Tamil Nadu, where it is called 'Pura'. Pura, Pera or Paira means dove in several languages of the Indian subcontinent including Bangla. Dove in the ancient Greek language was called 'Peristera' which meant 'Pera of Ishtar'. Ishtar was the great goddess of Mesopotamia.
The dove had a prominent place in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest surviving fiction written down by human beings 4,100 years ago. In that epic, the angry water god Enki flooded the earth for seven days; and a boat built by the god's chosen man named Utnapishtim saved a pair of every living creature. At the end of that flood Enki asked Utnapishtim to let the dove and raven leave the boat to find land.
Nearly two thousand years after that dreadful flood the livid god of Judea flooded the earth again. His chosen man Noah made a boat to save a pair of doves and every other living creature. The dove and raven were once again released to find the land at the end of that flood. Thanks to the dove's talent to find dry land, the earth has been repopulated by about eight billion people in a mere two thousand years.
Incongruously enough, the dove has not multiplied as well as the children of Noah have. If the remaining doves perish before the next global flood in the wake of climate catastrophe how will we find dry land afterwards!
Enam Ul Haque is the Chairman of WildTeam. First Published in The Business Standard.
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