Ignoring the objections of environmentalists, the government is moving towards another Bangabandhu Safari Park construction project. This safari park is being built by the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Shahab Uddin’s constituency is in Jouli of Moulvibazar. The forest department has finalized the master plan of the park with a possible cost of Tk 747.25 crore. Largely foreign animals will be brought to the park in the Lathitila protected forest area.
According to the master plan, Tk 203.40 crore has been allocated for wildlife in the safari park. Of this, Tk 162 crore has been set aside for the purchase of wild animals alone. The rest of the money has been set aside for expenditure in other sectors including maintenance of imported animals. However, the forest department has proposed to reduce the allocation to Rs 148 crore for the purchase of wild animals.
The plan calls for the purchase of 137 species of wild animals, including lions, tigers, giraffes and zebras. Most of the wildlife is said to be imported from Africa. It has been said that the construction work will be completed by 2026 starting from this year. And one crore rupees has been kept in the budget of the safari park for training abroad.
Environmentalists say the Lathitila protected forest is one of the country’s most biodiversity and wildlife areas. Due to deforestation and poaching, the animals are in danger. The initiative to build a safari park there without any separate initiative or project for their conservation could endanger the animals.
President of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA) Sultana Kamal told Prothom Alo that such safari parks should not be built in one of the most important protected forest areas of the country. As a result of such a project, as long as the biodiversity of Lathitila protected forest survives, it will lead to further destruction. The government should move away from building safari parks. Sultana Kamal said many people involved in environmental protection have been involved in such projects. It is creating immorality and conflict of interest.
The total area of Lathitila protected forest is 5,615 acres. Of this, the main infrastructure of the safari park will be constructed on 175 acres of land. However, the rest of the forest will come under the safari park. The Forest Department has received the survey and master plan for the construction of the safari park. Now they are preparing to submit it to the ministry as a project.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, director of Bangabandhu Safari Park-Moulvibazar project , told Prothom Alo : Basically we are building a safari park between these two villages. The park will be built on the side of the road. As a result, the forest will not be so damaged. On the contrary, the forest will be enriched through this park.
According to the master plan, Madhabkund Ecopark is within 20 km of the proposed safari park. Apart from this, Lauyachhara National Park is located within 50 kms of this park and 25 kms of Hakaluki Haor. The two parks and gardens are visited by 1 lakh 20 thousand and 2 lakh tourists annually. If Bangabandhu Safari Park, 15 to 20 lakh visitors will go there every year. It is expected to earn 25 to 30 crore rupees a year from there. The park will directly and indirectly employ 500 people.
Earlier, in 1999, a Bangabandhu Safari Park was built at Dulahazara in Cox’s Bazar and another Bangabandhu Safari Park was built at Gazipur in 2013. Tapan Kumar Dey, a former conservator of wildlife and nature conservation in the forest department, was in charge of the construction of the two safari parks. The former forest official is also involved in conducting a preliminary survey of the safari park.
Asked about the plan, wildlife expert Reza Khan told Prothom Alo , “I don’t understand why a safari park needs to be built in the country’s protected forests. The forest department should pay attention to the proper conservation of the wild animals in the forest. The construction of this safari park will lead to the destruction of Lathitila forest.