Dec 17, 2018

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Indigenous Communities to be Included in the Region’s Environmental Preservation Program

The region of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is perhaps the most biodiverse area of Bangladesh, home to a variety of endangered and rare species as well as to eleven indigenous tribes. As the region remains a mystery to most of modern science, the scientist Shahriar Caesar Rahman has decided to employ local indigenous hunters who become “parabiologists”, in order to save the wildlife by resorting to their traditional knowledge and support in conducting their own observational and measurement duties in the field. The scientist has highlighted that without the work of the indigenous people, they would lack both the man power and the knowledge to conduct necessary research. Rahman and his Creative Conservation Alliance have received the nature conservation Whitley Award in April 2018, in which occasion the scientist acknowledged the important role the indigenous peoples of the CHT have played in the success of the initiative.

The article below was published by The Laboratory Equipment:

Bangladesh is the most densely populated nation on Earth. But in the southeastern border region near Myanmar and India, it has perhaps its most biodiverse area, with a variety of endangered and rare species.

These Chittagong Hill Tracts cover some 5,000 miles, but remained a mystery to most of modern science, not familiar with the occasionally war-torn area as well as some of the roughly dozen indigenous tribes there.

So one researcher, who grew up in the capital of Dhaka, decided on a creative solution: he would hire the indigenous hunters to conduct some inquries. Now, in some cases, the hunters have become “parabiologists”—natives who are suddenly using digital cameras and smartphones to conduct their own kind of citizen science.

“I realized that if we want to save the wildlife, we’d have to work with the local people, and the local community,” said Shahriar Caesar Rahman, the scientist, in a recent statement on his work.

Earlier this year [2018] Rahman and his Creative Conservation Alliance were honored with the Whitley Award—a nature conservation award dubbed by some as the “Green Oscars.”

The “parabiologist initiative” of the work involves local men who are trained to carry out observational and measurement duties in the field. They include taking morphometric data of species, logging of GPS coordinates and telemetry readings. Most importantly, perhaps, they set up “camera traps” in key locations to catalog the presence of species that were long believed to have vanished from that corner of Southeast Asia.

“Without these dedicated souls we would not have the manpower of requisite traditional ecological knowledge of the study areas to conduct our research,” according to the CCA explanation of the program.

Rahman’s Google Scholar profile lists seven papers in various publications. The most recent was published last year in PLOS ONE, based on the prevalence and conservation status of the pangolin. Two of the co-authors listed with Rahman are Passing Mro and Poroy Mro.

An in-depth feature on the work of Rahman and his collaboration with the indigenous tribes, particularly the Mro people of Chittagong, was published last week on the conservation news site Mongabay. The account points out that not everything always works in the CCA’s favor—since the area is occasionally torn by political strife and outbursts of regional violence. The CCA also has differences of opinion with the local conservation authorities of the Bangaldeshi government, and not all the tribes of the region work cooperatively with the group, according to the account.

But there has been success. Some species that were previously believed to have been eradicated from Bangladesh, but were observed in the Hill Tracts, include: the gaur, leopard, sun bear, Sylhet roofed turtle, the Asian giant tortoise and other species.

Ten Mro “parabiologists” work with Rahman, according to Monghabay. Each is paid about $100 per month to collect the data and otherwise conduct their brand of citizen science.

When receiving the Whitley Award back in April, Rahman credited his collaborators out in Chittagong with the work’s successes.

“I would also like to share this award with the local communities who have shared with me their homes, their wisdom, and their trust,” Rahman said. “To them I say, ‘I will not let you down.’”


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons