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Ratargul forest under threat

33Ratargul Swamp Forest, the only freshwater swamp forest at Gowainghat, Sylhet, a potential tourist spot located 16 km off the Sylhet city, lies under threat due to unplanned tourism.
According to locals, tourists from different parts of the country and abroad visit the forest round the year to enjoy its natural beauty, but their flow marks a sharp rise during the dry season.
So the excessive pressure of tourists and their noise disturb the calm and quiet environment of the forest forcing the wildlife and birds to flee it, said Saidur Rahman, a boatman who carries tourists.
During a recent visit to Ratargul Swamp Forest, it was found a group of excited young boys and girls visiting the forest from Sylhet city, creating noise pollution while taking selfie at the watch tower installed in the forest.
Disturbed by their noise, a flock of monkeys started running away seeking safer shelter as they prefer a quiet and isolated place to live in.
Sona Miah, another boatman who carried the correspondent, said locals repeatedly asked the Forest Department to announce a particular area of the forest as a ‘safe zone’ for the wildlife where the access of tourists will be restricted so that the wild animals and birds can live safely and peacefully.
“But, there has been no response yet,” he added.
The forest is the only freshwater swamp forest in Bangladesh while one of few in the world.
The 204-hectare evergreen forest is situated by the Goain River and connected with the Chengir Khal. The most trees have gown here are ‘koroch’, ‘hijal’, ‘barun’, ‘baladumor’.
This forest goes under 20-30 feet water during monsoon, while itswater level remains about 10 feet deep during the rest of the year.
According to data provided by Forest Department officials, once there were about 73 plant species, 20 species of reptiles, 26 species of mammals and 175 species of birds in the Ratargul forest.
Locals said most of the species have already disappeared or gone extinct or fled the forest due to food crisis and loss of their habitats. Now, only a few species like reptile, snake and monkey are found there.
During his visit, this correspondent found only some monkeys and one snake in the forest, but the monkeys living in the forest are small in seize. Birds were hardly seen.
“You’ll find monkeys here, but they’re very small in seize as they hardly get food. So, these monkeys frequently swim to nearby villages in search of food,” said Sona Miah.
Asked why birds do not prefer to stay in the forest, he said as there is no fruit-bearing tree, birds do not like to live in the forest.
Ismail Hossain, another 35-year-old villager, said there were thousands of birds barely 5-7 years ago, but all the birds fled the forest as the tourist flow started increasing.
Forest officials say the increasing dependence of local people on forest resources, climate change impacts and excessive flow of tourists have been posing a serious threat to the biodiversity and plants in the forest