As the evening falls, imagine the doors of the amusement park opening. As the eyes get adjusted to the darkness inside, nocturnal animals welcome visitors to their mysterious abode. Tigers, lions, giraffes, zebras and wild deer – all the creatures strolling in the open while the visitors travel around in minibuses. Suddenly a group of wild animals block the way, as the Bengal tiger comes to the window and starts roaring.
This might sound like a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie. But the "Night Safari Park" in Chattogram's Sitakunda, which will be similar to Singapore's Mandai nocturnal wildlife park, is going to offer this thrilling experience as early as late 2023.
The Chattogram district administration is implementing the park, as it is now at the designing stage. Once constructed, this will be the first night safari park in South Asia.
At a cost of Tk20 crore, the park will span 40 acres of land at Jungle Salimpur area of Sitakunda upazila.
"Jungle Salimpur forest is disappearing fast due to illegal settlement and encroachment by ravaging hills and trees. The park will help conserve biodiversity and develop ecotourism," Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Md Mominur Rahman told The Business Standard.
He said the park will also facilitate wildlife study, research and amusement.
At Jungle Salimpur, some 850 acres of public land have remained vacant for many years. The park, therefore, will not require any land acquisition.
Designers have visited the site recently, as the district administration says the work will begin within a month. The authorities hope to inaugurate the park late 2023.
Of the estimated cost of Tk20 crore, Chattogram Zoo will give Tk3 crore from its funds, according to Mominur Rahman.
Md Shahadat Hossain Shuvo, deputy curator of Chattogram Zoo, told The Business Standard that the park will have wild animals in their natural habitats.
He said, "By reducing the number of cages, animals with similar behaviour will be housed together, as visitors will see them while travelling around in minivans."
Shuvo said there will be night shows in the park after 6pm.
The deputy commissioner said this safari park will be unit-2 of the Chattogram Zoo. He said apart from preserving various wild animals, such as endangered Asiatic elephants, in the safari park, a bird sanctuary will be established in the nearby hills.
He estimates that at least 5 lakh people will be visiting the park every year.
"Animals of different species such as tiger, lion, hippopotamus, giraffe, camel, kangaroo, wildebeest and llama will be collected, bred and preserved. The park will help increase the participation of university students and researchers in wildlife conservation" said Mominur Rahman.
'Do we really need it?'
Environmentalists and civil society members fear the safari park will damage natural forests and hills in the area.
"There is really no difference between a zoo and a safari park," said environmentalist ANM Moazzem Hossain Riyad, referring to the recent deaths of wild animals at different safari parks in Bangladesh.
"How many such parks do we really need for this small country," he told The Business Standard.
Riyad said India's Tamil Nadu has recently cancelled a safari park project despite having permission from the central government.
Khaled Misbahuzzaman, professor of Forestry and Environmental Science Department at Chattogram University, said, "Hills act as a crucial resource for natural balance, biodiversity and fresh water. I do not understand why a safari park should be on those hills. Urbanisation centering on establishments will threaten biodiversity."
But Chattogram Zoo Deputy Curator Md Shahadat Hossain Shuvo claimed the safari park will play a role in wildlife conservation.
"The number of animals in the Chattogram Zoo is increasing every year. Recently the Bengal tiger gave birth to four rare white cubs, raising the number of tigers to 16. The number of deer in the zoo also has increased to 30."
He said there will be a tiger breeding centre in the safari park. Besides, the safari park can also be utilized as a research centre to implement the government's plan to release tigers in the Kasalang range in the Chattogram Hill Tracts.