We are appalled by the news that dozens of wild animals were killed in a fire caused by the Hatimara Tea Garden in Habiganj’s Chunarughat upazila when it set the trees ablaze on a land that it had leased, which then spread to a nearby forest. As well as wildlife, the fire also reportedly significantly damaged its flora. What’s equally shocking, the local administration was yet to intervene even three days after the incident. This raises concerns about whether the authorities concerned are really sincere about saving the wildlife in the area.

The Rema-Kalenga sanctuary, where the wildfire took place, is frequented by birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts from around the country. While visiting the area on Sunday, our correspondent saw charred bodies of capped langurs, barking deer, Indian civets, hilly mynas, squirrels, herons and countless other wild animals lying in different places of what was once their home. Locals reportedly buried many of them over the past three days. We cannot help but ask: Why was the fire allowed to spread to the forest? What’s stopping the authorities concerned from taking appropriate action? Who will answer for what appears to be a case of premeditated wildlife culling?

There is no doubt that the responsibility to protect forests and their wildlife falls squarely on the government, but it also falls to a large extent on private entities using forested land or nearby areas. As such, if any private actor does something that harms the forests and their natural inhabitants, they must be brought to book to ensure that nothing like this is repeated in the future. Unfortunately, what happened at the Rema-Kalenga sanctuary shows how negligent both the state and private actors have been in performing their duties.

Forests and their wildlife are precious assets of our country. Bangladesh is duty-bound to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, according to a pledge signed by the government in COP26. Bangladesh has signed and ratified all important international biodiversity treaties, conventions, and accords. Our constitution expressly demands the protection and improvement of the environment, as well as the preservation of natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests, and wildlife. The government, therefore, must take appropriate action to protect forests and their biodiversity and wildlife, including by stopping private actors like the Hatimara tea estate from setting forests ablaze.

It is time for us to reassess the strength of our state apparatuses in providing proper protection to the diverse flora and fauna of our country. We often see reports on deforestation, animal culling, and the leasing out of forest land to private enterprises that harm the environment. This should not be allowed to continue any longer. We urge the administration to stay alert and increase efforts to protect our natural resources, including hills and rivers that remain equally at risk of encroachment and undue interferences.

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