Saturday, June 15, 2024

A wild wish for hippo

State minister wants to introduce hippos in Kaptai Lake; bewildered environmentalists lambast the idea
The state minister for environment and forest has come up with a strange plan to introduce hippopotamus, a species from Sub-Saharan-Africa, in the Kaptai Lake in Rangamati with a portion of climate funds.
“The idea came to my mind during my recent visit to Kenya. I found many hippos in a lake smaller than the Kaptai Lake. It attracted a lot of tourists,” said Hasan Mahmud, state minister for environment and forest.
“If we can have hippos in the Kaptai Lake, it will draw many tourists and add a new species to our biodiversity,” he said.
When told that introduction of an alien species in the wild can pose threat to local species, the minister said the hippos could be kept at a corner of the lake.
“But the ministry has to discuss the issue with other government establishments,” he said.
However, biologists and environmentalists baulk at the idea, and say bringing such an animal to the Kaptai Lake will have a devastating impact on local species.
It will threaten fish cultivation, and pose risk to fishermen and people around the lake, they observed.
“How can they think of introducing here such a wild species of Sub-Saharan Africa, when all successive governments have failed to protect the country’s wildlife,” asked veteran wildlife expert Dr Reza Khan.
He suggested that the government should be more attentive to saving local species rather than introducing new ones.
Enayetur Rahim, personal assistant to the state minister for environment and forest, told The Daily Star, “During a visit to Rangamati in April, the minister expressed his desire to release hippos in the lake.”
The minister also asked the Wildlife Division in Chittagong to assess the possible impacts of its introduction, said Enayetur.
“While inspecting the construction of a road by the lake, Hasan said the ministry has enough money in the climate change fund to buy hippos,” he said.
“A pair of hippos will cost around Tk 40 lakh,” Enayetur said.
Bangladesh has two climate funds — Tk 700 crore Climate Change Trust Fund, financed by the government, and Climate Resilience Fund, financed by its development partners.
Both the funds are meant for taking measures to adapt to climate change, mitigate its impact, and help climate victims.
Experts say artificial Kaptai Lake is not suitable for the African species, as its regular diets — grass and other aquatic plants — do not grow there.
Hippos, mostly herbivorous mammals, are known to be extremely hostile towards human and can run as fast as 48 kilometres an hour.
The guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature don’t permit releasing an animal of Sub-Saharan region in the open in Bangladesh’s environment, said Dr Reza, the head of the Dubai Zoo.
Any animal can be kept and bred in a zoo or a confined breeding place in line with the zoo’s master plan or programme, he said.
Dr Tapan Dey, conservator of forest (wildlife division), said he was unaware about any plan to release hippos in the Kaptai Lake.
He, however, said hippos are very dangerous and will pose a threat to fishermen around the lake.
“If we release hippos in the lake, we have to fence them in a certain area. Otherwise, it will be very risky to fish in the lake,” said Tapan.
Besides, hippos need huge quantity of diets, mainly grass and aquatic plants, he added.
The hippo, one of the largest mammals on land, can measure up to 11 feet long and 5 feet tall. A hippo consumes as much as 100 pounds of grass every day and lives up to 40 years.
The Kaptai Lake, created by damming the Karnaphuli river in 1961 mainly for hydroelectric power generation, now serves as one of the major sources of freshwater fish in the country.
Hippos are responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal, said Dr Reza.
Male hippos are fiercely territorial. Females can also be extremely aggressive, if they feel threatened.
The Dhaka zoo now has six hippos in two enclosures.


Courtesy of The Daily Star

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