One person who was a real treat to have along with us was Animesh Ghose. Animesh was an ecology student at Shahjalal University with a special interest in frogs. He had assisted the project on his own time over the last couple of years, and was a valuable assistant and guide to our group.
Animesh was one of several students who helped found the “Green Explore Society”, a student-run environmental group, on the campus of Shahjalal University of Science & Technology. They deploy an impressive membership roll of 300 students into research, media, and animal rescue wings. Not many people are environmentally inclined in Bangladesh, but GES is actively trying to change that.
Halfway through our time at the national park, Animesh brought fifteen of his fellow GES students to our dorm. Scott Trageser and Ash Wisco led them in a workshop on wildlife photography, with a practicum where the students worked on macro shots of spiders and distant shots of gibbons.
The primate diversity they went out to photograph was extensive. Despite its relatively small size and human impact, Lawachara is one of the top reservoirs of primate diversity in Bangladesh, with seven different species found within the park boundaries. Our group got to see the following species during our time there.
Rhesus Macaque (Mucaca mulatta)
Hoolock Gibbons (Hoolock hoolock)
Capped Langur (Trachypithecus pileatus)
Phayre’s Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus phayrei)
At night we split up the group and took them on trail transects, python and tortoise radio-tracking, and road cruising surveys. But the highlight of our time with GES was when we convened for a group experience-sharing session.
The first to share were the foreigners. We each had a story we hoped could inform or inspire them – wildlife impact assessments we had worked on, expeditions we had gone on, even snakebite experiences. I shared about my work with a citizen science project (NAFHA and the www.naherp.com database) that resulted in land being conserved for native species.
Then someone asked if the students had any stories they would like to share. Animesh and Hasan, the president of GES, told us a fantastic story of a two-year process over which the Green Explore Society managed to put an end to an illegal bird market in Dhaka. Wild-caught birds like Common Myna, Jungle Myna, Hill Myna, Spotted Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Baya Weaver, Bronze-winged Jacana, Black-hooded Oriole, Purple Swamphen, and several parakeet and finch species, as well as mongoose and other mammals, had been sold during a religious festival. Many of these birds are protected under the Bangladesh Wildlife Preservation Act and also in Bangladesh Preservation and Security Act.
After false starts with the police camp, the regional office of the Bangladesh Forest Department, and the Bangladesh Police and Rapid Action Battalion, GES decided to team up with Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (a national environmental organization) and PRADHIKAR (a student based organization of Sylhet Agricultural University working for animal welfare). Together they submitted a letter of concern to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Divisional Forest Officer and the Deputy Commissioner of the District Council.
When nothing happened, they decided to go on site and perform a raid themselves! After trying to convince the traders to stop selling the birds (with predicable results), the students called the Metropolitan Police from the site and they sent a police force with three members!!! With the police assistance the birds were confiscated and the market was shut down. Eventually the manager of the fair was brought in, and by the next year the wild bird trade at the fair was shut down completely. (further details can be found on the Living Alongside Wildlife blog)
Animesh also gave us a description of the group’s Snake Photography Exhibition. Under the auspices of an art exhibition, the group had displayed local snake photographs in a university common space for six days, with detailed information on the ecological benefit of snakes. The university’s vice-chancellor inaugurated the exhibition, over one thousand students left notes in the exhibition’s feedback diary, and GES reports that they’ve already seen a visible change in their fellow students’ attitude towards snakes.
Another highlight of our trip was when Animesh took our group to the Ratagul Swamp Forest. The Ratagul Swamp Forest is the last swamp forest left in Bangaldesh, a remnant of an ecosystem that used to span over a much larger area. Animesh grew up near the swamp forest, and is planning to study the swamp’s frog assemblage.
Our group drove to a small village on the outskirts of the swamp so that local villagers could take us in two small boats. We were waiting on the edge of the canals that lead into the swamp forest and hadn’t even taken off yet when Evan Arambul, a field herper from Arizona, noted, “Is that a snake over there?”
I exclaimed, “Yes, it is!” and Lockie Gilding and I went running into the water to corral it. The young snake dove and resurfaced several times, but the two of us were able to corner it and soon Lockie had it in hand.
It was a gorgeous Painted Keelback (Xenocrophis ceracegastor)! Not only was this the first Painted Keelback I’d ever seen, it was the first one that had ever been recorded from this part of Bangladesh. The group is publishing the find in Herpetological Review.
After that exciting start, we got into our canoes and began exploring the swamp forest itself. Dusk soon turned into night and we used our headlamps to scan the waters and shores.
The most common frog in Ratagul was the Bhamo Frog (Humerana humeralis), the keynote species of the swamp forest.
By far the most common snake was the Checkered Keelback (Xenocrophis piscator). Our group saw around a dozen of these, some in the water and others on shore.
A number of other frog species were also spotted, including Indian Bullfrogs (Hoptobatrachus tigerinus), Terai Cricket Frogs (Fejerverya teraiensis), Skittering Frogs (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis), and Common Indian Toads (Duttaphynus melanostictus).
Future Bangladesh Python Project trips hope to return with Animesh to the swamp forest to make a better survey of the area during both day and night hours, in order to see whether a wider array of herp species (possibly including Rainbow Water Snakes, Red-necked Keelbacks, Buff-striped Keelbacks, Indian Rat Snakes, Monocled Cobras, and a number of species of kraits). I want to thank Animesh and all of GES for sharing these places and their experiences with us, and am looking forward to seeing them again next year.
If you are interested in the Bangladesh Python Project, you can read more at the project’s Facebook page.
If you would like to go on next year’s trip, contact Scott through his Nature Stills website.
If you would like to donate to support the Bangladesh Python Project, you can do that through The Orianne Society.