How much can a tiny 15-gram weaver eat? Recently, hundreds of these sparrow-like birds were killed, their beautifully woven, hanging nests were destroyed, and nestlings were thrown out in Pirojpur and Jhalokathi.
The weavers did one thing wrong to face all the wrath: They sustained on crops. What else should these seed-eaters munch on when we have converted almost every grassland, swamp and fallow to our needs? What would Bangladesh look like if all the weavers were gone? I tried to picture the void.
Fishing cats, jungle cats and civets of our wetlands and village groves, then, invaded my thoughts.
These small carnivores are slightly bigger than a domestic pussycat, prefer homestead jungles to deep forests. Out of fear and stigma, these animals are being persecuted all over the country. They are beaten to death, run over by speeding vehicles, and, whenever spotted, their kittens are taken into custody.
There is no week in a month or no month of a year without the news telling us the gruesome treatment these 'nuisance' animals are given just for taking a chicken from the backyard. This sort of news is popping out from every corner of Bangladesh. There are numerous videos flowing all over social media, where a mob 'bravely' caught a fishing cat or smashed the ill-fated life to pulp.
With all the homesteads and natural wetlands disappearing, where would they go? I tried to sense the desperation of a fishing cat that mothered a litter with nowhere to hide. I found no words to picture the misery.
The nilgai that ventured into Panchagarh from neighbouring India last March perhaps did nothing wrong. But it was chased non-stop for 25 kilometres. Before it had collapsed and died due to exhaustion, it ran past about a 15,000-strong frenzied mob and by-standers.
Not a single person in a fairly large crowd did step up to save the animal. To me, the absence indicates something very unsettling. There is a glaring disconnection between us and nature.
Conflicts between humans and wild animals arise when either the necessity or behaviour of wildlife hampers human livelihoods or benefits. Although the scenario is pervading in our country, however, much to our chagrin, hardly anyone can be seen addressing or sparing any effort on these issues.
The absence of serious efforts to resolve the conflict also indicate our cognitive bias in our strategy to wildlife conservation. We have a dedicated plan to mitigate the conflicts with some iconic species, such as tiger and elephant; however, we have no decent action to make people understand the actual meaning of wildlife or to conserve the species that are seemingly diminutive yet integral indicators to a healthy ecosystem.
For example, since independence, the tiger has been a focus of around 50 scientific researches. When compared, we found minimal studies made on other carnivore mammals.
We also have no plan to protect wildlife outside protected areas. As such, jackals, squirrels, fishing cats, and various other species that live near us are being massacred or, in extreme cases, poached to satisfy the greed of some unscrupulous businessmen, all under the veil of personal life and property threat.
While arguments can be made on how wildlife living within the proximity of human settlements cause damages by ruining crops, livestock, arable lands, etc., humans altering wild habitats through urbanisation, agricultural expansion and an ever-growing population are facts undeniable.
Their habitats have been squeezed into extremely narrowed or fragmented areas, causing human-wildlife contact to be unavoidable which, in time, escalates to human-wildlife conflict.
If left unattended, the crisis will lead to the exponential wildlife loss and endangering or destroying the once plentiful biodiversity of protected and non-protected areas alike, and thus, disrupting the ecological balance of nature.
No matter how insignificant it may seem, every species is a part of the environment. Having their own roles in nature, they are silently performing their ecological services that are left unseen by most of the humans.
For we see the tip of the iceberg, how birds like weaver, common myna or other animals like small cats are harming our harvest or poultry, but little do we bother thinking about how many rodents, insects and reptiles have been cleared off by them.
The indiscriminate destruction has a deep-rooted repercussion. The absence of small wildlife causes uncontrolled growth spurt of insects and rodents, harming the produce of farmers even more.
With no biological control to check the pest, farmers also lean toward heavy usage of chemical fertilisers and harmful pesticides that both unbalance the natural productivity of land and agricultural ecosystem, and affect the quality of produce from these lands.
Heavy use of chemicals also gets accumulated in the harvest. Repeated consumption of such produce might give rise to several chronic diseases. These circumstances are but the beginning of the long run sufferings human kind might face if the situation is left unattended.
But there really are no easy ways to resolve wildlife conflicts that are interconnected on many levels, specifically, in a country extremely overpopulated like Bangladesh.
These complex issues that are interconnected with various factors – like the biodiversity within and between ecological systems, human involvement and the already existing social values, mindset and interests – demand an interdisciplinary approach to be resolved and be of benefit to both the human and wildlife.
Thus, changes need to be made having clear action plans in mind and the process needs to be a long one. Like a light in the end of the tunnel, implication of law enforcement to thwart wildlife crime and social shaming of a wildlife abuser is following an upward trend.
For example, I can recall the incident where a university student from Patuakhali decapitated a tiny kingfisher for laying eggs in a personal property. The perpetrator faced an exemplary punishment, and was criticised widely across social media. Although the penalty was little, even the farmers from Jhalokathi or Pirojpur did not get away with their cruelty.
Interdisciplinary approach is already an established norm in many developed countries to deal with problems stemming from socio-economic, socio-ecological, cultural and socio-cultural angles.
As such, policies need to be revamped to integrate ecological knowledge, human dimension, socio-ecological and cultural or, in special cases, indigenous knowledge to project a holistic view of the problems and identify their root causes.
Furthermore, local people need to be engaged in decision making. The authority must consider the opinions before formulating any decision.
In parallel, common wildlife like squirrels, parakeets, weavers, fishing cats, jackals, etc. should be brought under the conservation focus. That they are equally important to any ecosystem, that they have the right to exist with us in harmony should be relayed across different platforms. Mass befriending and understanding the common wildlife is one of the best solutions to lower the ongoing hostility.
Also, local and international agencies need to broaden their reach to focus on the species that live near human habitat.
Only with local cooperation can the law and policy enforcement be fruitful. Because unless we learn to value the wildlife that live in the backyard, no law can stem the loss.
Human-wildlife conflicts, this issue did not arise in a day, rather evolved over a long period of time, and thus, the changes also need to be registered gradually as a long-term and all-encompassing process.
To maintain sustainable development, we need to live in harmony with the wildlife. Else, consequences in the future will be bitter. There are quite a many examples where humans tried to coerce their will on nature. The outcomes were always disastrous.
Not so long ago, China attempted to cull sparrows, a bird related to weavers. The killing of millions of sparrows to save the crops resulted in swarming locusts with no birds to eat them. Ultimately, the country paid the price as it went through a famine.
Rachel Carson, in The Silent Spring, vividly described a timeline when the insensible use of DDT, a destructive pesticide, pushed birds to the brink.
Through the work, we understood that the value of birds (and any other wildlife alike) must not be superseded by the monetary benefits, that a world without any chirp, hoot or wingbeat would be an excruciating place to exist.
DDT is banned now. The world has come to senses. Have we?