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The dark underbelly to our enduring romance with otithee pakhi
The annual migration of the otithee pakhi (guest birds) escaping the harsh northern hemisphere winter to take up temporary, seasonal residence close to one of the numerous wetlands spread over Bangladesh is a much-romanticised phenomenon in the Bangladeshi psyche.
Although increasingly on the wane in line with our dwindling wetlands, decamping outside the city to spend a day observing the decidedly foreign-feathered friends, mostly ducks, gracing us with their rather regal presence can warm the hearts of most Bangladeshis, even in the depths of winter.
Yet the overwhelmingly welcoming attitude has a dark underbelly that sees the poaching of these same birds by a small minority engaged in criminality. The use of harmful chemicals to kill the birds has by now become rampant across the coastal wetlands of Bhola.
More than 50 remote chars that are part of Bhola district, including Majhir Char in Sadar upazila, Madanpur of Daulatkhan, Bairagir Char, Char Tarua of Char Fasson, Nemayetpur char, Char Kukri-Mukri, Dhalarchar and Charpalita, have for decades been used as their wintering ground by various species of migratory birds, that mostly come here each winter from the Himalayas and beyond, including Europe and the cold, unforgiving landscape of Siberia.
In many cases however, far from being accorded the hospitality worthy of guests in our culture, they encounter deadly traps set for them in the form of vast expanses of crop fields sprayed with poisonous chemicals, effectively turning them into vast killing fields in waiting, ideally suited to large-scale poaching.