The Chattogram-Cox's Bazar railway project will endanger as many as 234 species of wild animals, as around two lakh trees of different species will have to be felled for the execution of the project.
USA-based research organisation on wildlife and biodiversity, Norris L Dodd has made this projection in its survey report.
Norris L Dodd in its study has found that among the 234 different species of animals, 61 have already been red listed by the International Union for Conservation, as they are on the brink of extinction owing to the adverse impact of climate change and to ecological challenges. These include five species of reptiles, five species of birds and five species of mammals.
A team of researchers from Norris L Dodd along with the Bangladesh National Environmental Consultant of the same organisation Asif Imran conducted the survey under the Chattogram - Cox's Bazar railway project. The study was financed by the Asian Development Bank, the funder of the rail link project.
Environmentalists think that construction of the railway track through forested areas will pose a serious threat to wildlife and to biodiversity in the region. They also think that the felling of two lakh tress might cause serious environmental damage there.
Project Director Engineer Mofizur Rahman, however, said that they have taken a number of measures for the conservation of biodiversity and wildlife in the project areas.
Even though two lakh trees will be cut down to make way for the railway, seven lakh tress will be planted in the area after setting up of the rail line, he said. He also spoke about constructing overpasses and underpasses to facilitate the movement of wild animals across the railway line.
The researchers from Norris L Dodd carried out two surveys at three reserve forests in the Chattogram region. The first survey was done from April 8 to April 15 in 2017, while the second one was conducted from October 31 to November 7 the same year.
The studies were done through camera trapping. Eleven cameras were set up in Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary, seven in Fasiakhali Wildlife Sanctuary and two cameras were set up in Medhkachapia National Park. These cameras were kept on for seven months. Apart from elephants, as many as 233 species of wild animals including 232 groups of 9 species of mammals and 99 species of birds were spotted with the camera traps.
In Chunati, 234 species of animals including 168 groups of six species of mammals were found, while 66 species of animals including 59 groups of 4 mammal species were spotted in Fasiakhali. Among the mammals found in Fasiakhali, there are two species of cats of which the fishing cat is red listed by the International Union for Conservation.
A 27-kilometre stretch of the 128-kilometre Dohazari-Cox's Bazar rail route will pass through these three forest conservation areas. Of this, 15.8 kilometres will be in Chunati, 10.3 kilometres in Fasiakhali and 0.9 kilometre will be in Medhkachapia. Around two lakh trees will have to be cut down in these important wildlife sanctuaries for this.
The survey report said that different species of wild elephants will be the hardest hit by the project. The construction of the rail track will bring changes to the habitat and biodiversity of elephants.
Under this study, birds were surveyed in three seasons. Eighty-one species of birds were spotted in Chunati, 37 in Fasiakhali and 22 species of birds were spotted in Medhkachapia.
A total of 4,181 birds of some 99 species were identified in these three forests. Of them, 34 species are under threat of extinction.
Various trees were also surveyed at seven points of the core zone of Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary and 11 species were detected there.
At the 'community' portion of the Fasiakhali Bapar forest, there are five species of plants. However, Garjan trees constitute the bulk of the stock of trees in the forest. Fifty-eight percent of the total trees in the forest are Garjan.
Meantime, 45, 30 and 19 species of medicinal plants and shrubs have been identified in Chunati, Fasiakhali and Medhkachapia respectively. These plants and shrubs are suitable for the sustenance of wild animals and birds.
According to project details, 89 kilometres of the railway line will be set up from Dohazari to Ramu in Chattogram, 11 kilometres of line will be set up from Ramu to Cox's Bazar sea beach and 28 kilometres railway line will be set up from Ramu to Ghumdhum border point along Myanmar. About 30 percent work of the 128-kilometre railway route project has been completed by now.
The felling of trees will start in October. The dual-gauge rail route project involving an estimated cost of Tk16,182 crore will be complete by 2022.
Professor Dr Mohammad Kamal Hossain from the Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences at Chittagong University, said that the construction of the railway will not only rip apart the reserved forest area, but will also threaten wild animals such as elephants. The railway project will also cause an environmental catastrophe because two lakh trees will be felled at the same time, he added.
"The railway authority says that it will construct underpasses for the movement of animals, but we still see reports of recurrent accidents and deaths of different wild creatures on the railway track set up in Lauachhara," he said.
Implementation of such projects without keeping alternative arrangements might result in catastrophic consequences, he opined.
It is worth mentioning that different kinds of wild animals are dying at regular intervals in the Lauachhara National Forest in Sylhet after the construction of a railway line and road through the forest. According to the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division, the list of wild creatures dying along this railway include deer, python, wild boar, lizards, and a great number of frogs.
Proposals from Chattogram Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division
Meanwhile, the Chattogram Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division has given a set of proposals to the railway department to conserve wildlife and nature on project sites in reserved forests.
The proposals are: construction of an 8-metre-high and 100-metre-long underpass for elephant movement, construction of an underpass that is at least two meters long every one kilometre for the movement of deer and other small animals, building of box culverts over waterbodies for the movement of reptiles and amphibious animals, covering up of box culverts and underpasses with plants, reduction of the speed of trains in forest areas to 20 kilometres per hour, and formation of an elephant tracking committee.
Abu Naser Mohammad Yasin Newaz, divisional forest officer, wildlife management and nature conservation division, referred to Lauachhara to highlight how wild creatures are dying as a result of setting up railway tracks through forest areas.
He, however, said that the risk can be reduced to some extent if underpasses and overpasses are constructed for the movement of wild creatures, and noiseless movement of trains can be ensured.