Our days in Satchari National Park

What could be more exciting to start a new year with tales from the wild? Let us tell you our adventures and delve into the mesmerizing world of Satchari National Park.

To one of the smallest parks of Bangladesh

The Satchari National Park (SNP) is one of the smallest amongst the 17 National Parks of Bangladesh. It is a Category II protected area by IUCN, administratively located in the Chunarughat Upazila of Habiganj District under Sylhet Forest Division. The park is nearly 130 km northeast from Dhaka containing mixed tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen patches of Raghunandan Hills Reserve Forest, covered under Satchari Beat of Satchari Range. Like all other protected areas under the authority of Forest Department, the Satchari National Park has been selected as one of the five pilot sites in north-eastern Bangladesh for co-management in 2004 under the Nishorgo Program and declared as a Protected Area the next year.

Once being a natural forest, it is a gradually altered secondary forest including plantation forests, grasslands and bamboos, wetlands and lemon gardens. Despite covering an area of about 242.91 hectares, SNP is home to more than 208 plant species, 24 mammals, 18 reptiles, 6 amphibians, and 149 species birds. It is a place with accounts of species which are threatened to ranging extents at the national and global scales.

Satchari National Park: Gem of the Northeast Bangladesh

Since the very first day, SNP never ceases to amaze us. When we entered the forest for the first time to do our reconnaissance survey, we were fortunate to get the sight of a barking deer running in front of us. We noticed some elegant birds singing and breaking the silence of the forest. Groups of primates were staring at us in curiosity noticing their privacy being invaded. The footprints of cats and civets on sandy trails left us astonished. We will never forget that thrill facing the eye of a cat snake crossing us, on our way from watch tower while doing an inquiry on enthralling late-night sounds coming off the forests.

SNP gives us stories to tell. We can clearly recall the view of a hornbill settled on a long branch with its curvy head letting the light come in a thin, slanted beam through the forest canopy. It is impossible to forget the blind snake who was just killed, a garden lizard with terribly ruptured skin or, mutilated corpse of a rhesus monkey lying lifeless beside the road. I wonder what they were thinking or how they felt when their innocent soul came out to soar on the sky and left this harsh world. Yet, each time we visit SNP, it invariably gives us positive strength by its overwhelming natural resources and large-scale faunal diversity which is rarely seen today in parallel to other such small forest areas.

Bangladesh Forest Department: Our Inspiration

Bangladesh is a country of forests, asylum of greeneries. No matter how small the size is, our country helps us to dream and brings us to hope to become stronger, to flourish. A country once rich in biodiversity, now going through severe threats and damages over years. We have lost plenty yet on verge of losing more. During this critical time, conservation demands arise as the prime priority. The Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) is working dynamically to manage and safeguard the resources we still have, and shield the natural assets which are our last hope to secure hundreds of animals under threats. They are implementing several strategies, maneuvering conservation oriented efforts in collaboration with leading organizations to make quick progress. A current example is their works on the Bengal Tiger conservation in the south-western part of Bangladesh, the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans. Sensing tiger's massive drop in number, they are conducting the tiger census using camera trapping methodology to determine the overall tiger population. The BFD has set an example of their allegiance by creating WCCU (Wildlife Crime Control Unit) in 2013 to curb illegal wildlife trade and other related crimes. Moreover, any smaller species exposed to or facing immense threats are also being taking into actions by rescuing, sheltering, recovering, releasing or liberating to their original habitat by diligent support of this organization.

Our utmost gratitude goes to the respected leading BFD officials Mr. Mohammad Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Mr. Md. Jahidul Kabir, the Conservator of Forests (Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle) and Mr. Abu Musa Shamsul Muhit Chowdhury, the Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle), Moulvibazar, for endorsing us to work in the SNP. Special thanks to the Range Officer Mr. Mahmud Hossain and all field staffs for their cooperation and enthusiastic support.

How we started - the maps

We were deliberating where to start, went through literature and found there are resources unexplored but information was scanty and studies regarding those resources are dated back to years ago. Being inspired from the untiring efforts of Forest Department, we, MS students of Wildlife Biology branch of Department of Zoology in the University of Dhaka have decided to work on this area as a team and performed a reconnaissance survey on mid-April. We, then, prepared detailed topographic and elevation maps so that we can track down all the roads, crossroads and any usable paths within the park boundary. Preparing a geodetic-datum based map was sheer blend of learning, fun and excitement.

What we are doing there

Satchari National Park is a place with diversified plant species, a place cherished by researchers, naturalists, birders, and tourists for watching a unique combination of birds. During the winter, hundreds of bird lovers from all over the country come to watch and take photographs of these beautiful birds. By overwhelmed by so many trees, we want to understand how they are serving the birds, the life of the forest. Especially those fruit-eaters who plays a vital role in seed dispersal. While studying fig associated bird species within the forest, to name a few from the birds we have encountered so far - barred owlet, greater racket-tailed drongo, black-backed forktail, orange-headed thrush, little spiderhunter, green-billed malkoha, Indian cuckoo, common hill myna, chestnut-tailed starling, yellow-footed green pigeon, ashy-headed green pigeon and so on.

SNP is a dense mixed-evergreen north-eastern forest providing fruits throughout the year yet having a limited abundance of significant larger predators. We noticed it as an interesting place for conveying a good number of mammalian fauna. Inspired by the works of BFD, we try to attempt understanding mammals of SNP by digging up their whereabouts. We trail-walked hours after hours for signs and put some remote cameras. To our astonishment, SNP prizes our sweating and bone-crushing work. We have found Irrawaddy squirrel, porcupines, crab-eating mongoose, small Indian mongoose, Indian flying fox, large Indian civet, jungle cat, leopard cat, golden jackal, yellow-throated marten, large Indian civet, small Indian civet, and Asian palm civet during our study.

During our survey, we have seen and found signs of two ungulates - barking deer and wild boar which manifests the quite well indication of their existence. These are predominantly herbivore in nature and their feeding habit creates conflict with humans in an around the forest area to some extent. Also, we have encountered six non-human primate species including hoolock gibbon, slow loris, capped langur, pig-tailed macaque, rhesus macaque, and Phayre's leaf monkey.

The people around the park

Alongside fieldwork, our study also incorporates local community's perceptions. There are six tea gardens whereas the Tippera ethnic community living by the park periphery and, also other 14 villages located around 6-8 km periphery having varying degrees of dependence and interaction with the park as well as with its natural resources. These people are mostly poor, working on tea gardens with minimum wage and lead a very simple life. When we asked for their assistance, they warmly accepted us, freely shared their beliefs, tales from their experiences that cannot be comprehended sitting on a desk. We talk to them and try to look through their eyes to perceive their attitude towards wildlife, the drivers behind their coexistence and eventually to identify the current threats to wildlife and reasons instilling those threats over this interaction. Talking to the people of the forest is very crucial for determining the overall health of a forest.

The Parabiologists and Eco-guardians

In SNP, we couldn't reach this far with our study in a standard way without the cooperation of the eco-guides. Our appreciation to Mr. Haris Debbarma, Mr. Rasel Debbarma, Mr. Prosenjit Debbarma and many others from the Tippera community for their sincere endeavors, friendly attitude and for offering their help with warmth. They spend their lives growing up in this forest and these people are the first to come up with help if a wild animal is at peril. They are dedicated to supporting the authority for the betterment of this forest. Besides researchers, they voluntarily participate in protecting the forest biodiversity without any access to high-quality resources but with a devotion that comes from the heart. They not only led us in knowing the forest, but we always found them alongside to help us in every possible way providing guidance with much more knowledge than any other source regarding every nook and cranny of the forest.

Our Dreams and Vows for 2019

We dream to work with a scheme to enhance the knowledge on the countrywide least known fauna. Though we found quite good shreds of evidence of their existence in SNP, if we consider the bigger scenario, this is the high time to stand up for them. Species like civets, small cats and mongooses are facing threats due to habitat alteration and degradation, gradual deficiency of resources as food scarcity, strongly existing hunting and killing pressure, roadkill leading to a decrease in their distribution to few concentrated patches all over the country.

The more we know them, the better we can love the regality of a leopard cat, the elusive beauty of a golden cat; the deeper we can sense the galloping of a free-roaming barking deer and the better we can assist the Forest Department who are trying their heart and soul to save the last wild gems. Thus, our little effort is for saving these species and help the authority in effective conservation action. We decided to give it a try starting from this small national park and extend our work forward to other potential north-eastern forests with a vow to save these graceful creatures.

Tania Zakir is an MS student at the department of zoology, University of Dhaka: zakirtania60@gmail.com

Muntasir Akash is a lecturer at the department of zoology, University of Dhaka and Haris Debbarma is a parabiologist and eco-guide

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