Bangladesh to make harsher law to penalise poachers hunting endangered animals

Bangladesh is home to a diverse array of wildlife, none more emblematic than the Royal Bengal Tiger. The Bengal tiger is intrinsically embedded in the national psyche as a symbol of strength, resilience and fearlessnes, with the logos of the historic East Bengal Regiment and the national cricket team bearing its image.

But until recently, the country's tiger population was going down the same path as some other notable species such as the one-horned rhinoceros, the ganteng, hog and swamp deer, marsh crocodile and wild buffalo -- to extinction.

The loss of wildlife can not only hinder local communities economically, but it can also have a profound impact on the environment by creating ecological imbalances. One of the main threats facing endangered animals and avian species, including migratory birds, in the country is poaching.

Although wildlife hunting has been banned for decades, poaching remains a problem, particularly in areas near the Sundarbans where people can easily be lured by lucrative offers made by smugglers.

In a bid to clamp down on the practice, the government is moving to introduce stricter penalties to deter poachers by amending the existing law. Under the proposed framework, the punishment for hunting vulnerable animals and migratory birds will be equally as stringent as that for killing elephants and tigers.

Poachers will also lose the right to seek bail if charged with the offence, according to officials.

“The Forest Department is working on preparing the new provisions. The next step will be taken at a ministerial meeting after the draft is submitted,” said Dipak Kumar Chakraborty, deputy secretary to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

“Several matters, including punishments, are being revised. A decision will be taken on all the issues at the same time.”

The parliamentary standing committee on environment and forest has already held a discussion on amending the Wildlife Act (Conservation and Security), 2012 and recommended a few changes, including the reclassification of wildlife hunting as a non-bailable offence.

The penalties for killing tigers or elephants under the existing law include a jail term of up to seven years and a maximum fine of Tk 1 million. Reoffenders would face a term of 12 years in prison along with a fine of up to Tk 1.5 million.

If enacted, the amendments will mandate harsher punishment for killing endangered animals such as cheetahs, apes, samba deer, crocodiles, whales, dolphins and migratory birds.

The law currently stipulates a maximum of 3 years' imprisonment or Tk 300,000 fine or both for the offence. Further violation of the law is met with sentences of up to 5 years in jail and a maximum fine of Tk 500,000.

The punishment for killing migratory birds is a year behind bars or a fine of Tk 100,000. A repeat offence raises the penalty to 2 years in jail and/or a fine of Tk 200,000 at most.

The Forest Department will send the draft to the ministry for evaluation soon, according to officials.

“The law is being revised to criminalise the poaching of animals on the latest endangered species list," said Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chief of the parliamentary committee on environment and wildlife.

Bangladesh remains committed to preventing trade in endangered species as a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the 2005 Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals or CMS.

Article 18A of the country's constitution also imposes a duty on the state to protect and conserve wildlife and biodiversity.

The South Asian country has already lost approximately 31 species while another 390 are at risk, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Highlighting the ramifications of poaching, experts backed the efforts to amend the law while stressing the need for its proper enforcement.

Prof Monirul Hasan Khan, chairman of Jahangirnagar University’s zoology department, said, “The amendment of the law is a key step in reducing risks of extinction of endangered species."

"But," he stressed, "its success relies on enforcement.”