|The sand and mud shoals of Sonadia in Cox's Bazar are ideal shore bird habitat.|
|Muslim Miah in his tailor shop.|
Nowadays, 33-year-old Muslim Miah of Cox’s Bazar’s Moheshkhali earns his living as proprietor of a tailor shop in Ghotibanga Bazar of Kutubjom Union. When business is good the retired fisherman’s son earns 5 – 10,000 taka per month from his shop – a modest income but enough to keep the bachelor on his feet financially.
The shoals of southern Moheshkhali and Sonadia are rich habitat for shorebirds. The area attracts numerous species including the nordmann’s greenshank and spoon-billed sandpiper, endangered migrant species from the Siberian Arctic that arrive each winter after a long journey south. Worldwide there remain as few as 1,000 mature individuals of the former species and 200 of the latter.
|A shoal near Sonadia and Moheshkhali Islands, Cox's Bazar.|
The hunters would wait for shorebirds to entangle themselves as they landed, knowing the wild flapping of any caught bird would attract yet more.
As a bird hunter Miah’s income was significantly higher than today. A single Eurasian curlew, locally known as ‘totlarku’ and considered to be “better than chicken” would fetch 150 taka in the market. By selling 7 – 10 birds per day Miah could make up to 1500 taka.
But in 2011 the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project (BSCP) which was founded two years earlier with the goal of protecting the local habitat for spoon-billed sandpipers, signed conservation agreements with 25 identified active hunters including Miah.
|Ghotibanga Bazar, Kutubjom Union, Moheshkhali.|
|A bird chart at Ghotibanga Primary School.|
“Some of the hunters are now fishermen,” he says. Yet others took to watermelon cultivation, livestock rearing or grocery stores.
According to conservationist Mohammed Foysal, 29, of South Keraniganj, involved with the BSCP project since 2010, villagers were presented with two main conservation arguments. “One is the scientific argument,” he says, “about the value of healthy ecosystems while the other is philosophical, that all creatures have a right to exist.”
|Muslim Miah with his friends in the bazar.|
Ironically Miah believes he has never seen a spoon-billed sandpiper, the signature species of local conservation efforts, since hunters focused on the lucrative larger species and paid little attention to a by-catch bird barely 16 centimetres in length.
|Afternoon on one of the shoals that used to be Muslim Miah's workplace - now a haven for birds.|
This article is published in The Daily Star, here: Once was a Bird Hunter