In June 2014 I traveled to Bangladesh to experience the Bangladesh Python Project (now know as the Creative Conservation Alliance).
The Bangladesh Python Project was founded in 2011 by Shahriar Caesar Rahman. Caesar, who was born and raised in Dhaka, had been studying ecology at CUNY-Brooklyn but felt pulled to come back and root his scientific and conservation work here in Bangladesh.
With seed money and technical assistance from The Orianne Society, the help of a Bangladeshi conservation NGO called CARiNAM, and the contributions of several private donors, Caesar embarked on an attempt to study the behavior of Burmese Pythons in Lawachara National Park. Last year Scott Trageser, an American ecologist and wildlife photographer, starting taking teams of people interested in herpetology to help fund and enjoy the project. I was part of the inaugural team.
Our role during the two weeks we spent in Bangladesh was to observe and learn about project work, find as many tropical herps as we could, and have a great time. Our objectives were well fulfilled.
A primary focus of the Bangladesh Python Project is the radiotracking of pythons and tortoises in Lawachara National Park. In 2013, local villagers helped Caesar and his team capture three Burmese Pythons within the park. “Asha” (4 meters), “Bonnie” (3 meters) and “Chaity” (3 meters) had radiotracking devices surgically inserted under their skin and were released back into the wild. Caeser’s full-time tracking team uses radio antennas to locate the pythons twice a day and track their movements. All of the data is carefully recorded and will be used in a study of the ecology of pythons. That knowledge will then be used to educate public and policy makers to help them conserve pythons and other rare reptiles in Bangladesh.
The Python Team went with Caesar and his staff as they tracked the pythons. The opportunity to see wild pythons exhibiting their natural activity was incredible. Typically, pythons are only observed when they are doing something unusual and public – for example, crossing a road at night or eating someone’s chickens. If you’re extremely lucky, you might see one resting in a tree or swimming across a canal. But most of the time, pythons are engaged in secretive behavior that makes them almost impossible to find…unless you have a bead on their transmitter!
Here’s a photo of the author using a radiotracking antennae at night.
Here is “Chaity” in typical position resting in a small bamboo grove during the day.
And here is big Asha at night, with only the front of her body protruding from the trees.
Several times they were so hidden that a photo was meaningless – submerged in water and vegetation at the edge of a marsh or buried in piles of leaf litter. Without the radiotransmitters, you could have walked a foot away from them and never known they were there.
Not every python was found with the radiotracking. This 2.5 meter python, which had not been tagged by the project, was spotted on the edge of a stream in mid-afternoon. That was unusual behavior, and thus we were not particularly surprised when it turned out that the python was not a wild Lawachara local, but rather a pet that had been released into the forest.
The python tracking had been ongoing for a year when our team arrived, but the tortoise tracking project was only just beginning. Here you can see Caesar and Rashid inspecting “Aloo”, the first tortoise to be radiotagged for the project.
“Aloo” was captured in Lawachara by a local boy. Caesar has worked hard to develop a strong relationship with the local villages, and it has paid off – instead of eating or selling the tortoise, the boy and his father took the tortoise to Caesar.
Scott Trageser has experience in Desert Tortoise relocation efforts in the United States and so he advised and trained as the team completed the health check and transmitter affixation. After Aloo’s health was cleared and the transmitter was securely attached, the tortoise was brought out to the original site of capture for release.
At the same time that local Lawachara tortoises are being tracked, Caeser is initiating a pilot study to see if Lawachara could be used as a destination for the release of tortoises confiscated from smugglers and wildlife poachers in other parts of the country. “Burao” and “Clyde” were the first two tortoises to be released in that effort. The Python Team brought the tortoises to the park, where they awaited radiotransmitter affixation and release.
Here is Clyde, radiotransmitter and all, just before his release.
Tortoises are just as difficult to observe in the wild as pythons are. Our tracking often led us to clumps of branches or vegetation where the tortoises were hidden, usually with just a bit of shell visible.
There is no way anyone would ever find this tortoise without a radiotracking device:
We tried tracking the tortoises at all times of day and night. Before dawn we were able to find the tortoises active, motoring their way across the forest floor.
Fall 2014 update – just last month a second native Lawachara tortoise was given to Caesar by a villager! The man was from the village where we had done the earlier tortoise outreach, so he knew that the tortoise belonged in its natural habitat in the forest, and chose not to sell or eat it but turned it over to the project scientists instead. This is another positive step for conservation in the region. Caesar and his team also continue to tag and relocate more tortoises confiscated from other regions in Bangladesh..
2018 update – The Bangladesh Python Project has now tracked 10 locally caught pythons, 2 locally caught tortoises, and 8 relocated tortoises.