Every winter, Baikka Beel becomes an attraction for tourists as various migratory birds flock to the spot.
To look at the various species of birds in their colourful plumage, birdwatchers from all over the country come to the wetland located in Hail Haor, Srimangal upazila under Moulvibazar district.
Although the number of bird species have gone up, the overall presence of birds in this sanctuary have declined this year around.
Back in 2003, the government declared Baikka Beel a bird and fish sanctuary to protect and restore aquatic biodiversity in the spot.
Since then, volunteer group Boro Gangina Resource Management Organisation has been working to protect biodiversity in this sanctuary and the haor area.
According to the organisation, the number of birds in the beel drastically fell this winter, compared to the past few years. A decrease in aquatic plants native to the area and the absence of adequate coldness are the reasons behind this fall, they claimed.
Additionally, poachers hunting birds just outside the sanctuary area have also contributed to the drop in numbers.
Abdus Subhan Chowdhury, president of Boro Gangina Resource Management Organisation, said the temperature is not high enough in the Haor area this year.
"A large number of migratory birds live inside the bushes of the aquatic plants. Besides, they also eat the plants and other insects living there. But the heavy rainfall last year damaged the aquatic plants," he explained.
The length of Baikka Beel has increased to 300 hectares from 120 hectares and there are six security guards to keep poachers out.
"But greater manpower is needed to protect the entire haor area," Subhan added.
During a visit to the beel, only few birds could be seen beside the watch tower – usually a perch of choice for the avian guests. The length of the aquatic area has also decreased to 50 percent of that last year.
Still a preferable habitat
As of January 5 this year, at least 70 bird species were counted in Baikka Beel, up from 39 last winter.
This increase in the number of species, despite many obstructions, proves that the beel is still a preferable habitat for birds.
Zaman Khan Ziko, a wildlife photographer and bird lover, arrived at the beel a few days ago.
"I come to Baikka Beel every winter. The number of birds is low this season, but I found about 70 different avian species here," he said.
There are allegations that the poachers, on a regular basis, hunt birds from Hail Haor late at night. Apparently, they even manage to hand over their kills to buyers before the sun peeps in the morning.
Photos captured in the area pointed to the use of poison traps – mixing grains with deadly pesticides – to kill birds.
"I have captured many photos of dead birds killed by poison traps," said bird lover Khokon Singh who visits the Baikka Beel every week.
Abdul Wadud, divisional forest officer (nature and wildlife conservation) said they remain highly alert so that nobody can hunt any wildlife species in the area, especially birds.
"But we do not have enough manpower to protect all of Hail Haor. If people become aware of this issue, only then can the wildlife species be saved," he said.
According to the Bangladesh Bird Club, migratory birds come to Baikka Beel every year but the number hit a 10-year high in 2018.
According to the bird census conducted in 2019, the bird count was 11,615 from 39 species in the beel. Among those birds, five species were endangered.
Enam Ul Haque, ornithologist and founder president of the Bangladesh Bird Club, said this year's bird census is yet to be conducted.
"So this is not the perfect time to say whether the number of birds in this beel is low."
Enam claimed he had witnessed many species of birds there while visiting the beel early November last year.
"It will be sad if the number of birds really decreases this year. The census will be conducted on the last week of January. So, we will get the exact figure then."
ASM Saleh Suel, convenor of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) Moulvibazar district unit, said the poachers are hunting birds in many ways and selling those in the markets. This is the prime reason for which the migratory birds are not considering this beel as a secured habitat, he added.
"Apart from this, the aquatic biodiversity is also being hampered due to many man-made reasons. If the biodiversity is conserved properly, both migratory and native birds will come to this beel."