Interviews by Faria Ahmed
Even fifteen years ago, the general population of Bangladesh did little to nothing to promote animal rights or to fight animal cruelty. Whether it was to help rescue and rehabilitate stray animals, abused and injured animals, or those living in the wild. When a few scattered animal rights proponents would speak up, they would often be shut down with the dialogue that there is no room for animal rights in a land where many humans don’t receive basic rights to safety, food, or shelter. Nonetheless, the online and offline community of animal rights activists has grown significantly over the past decade. From individual volunteers feeding stray cats and dogs to full-fledged non-profit organizations pushing for legislative change – the animal rights scene has undergone drastic changes. I was lucky to have been able to track down and interview some of these key individuals and organizations who have helped make significant progress on this issue. Today, I am excited to introduce them to my readers at Millennial Things to demonstrate the power of our generation and what we can achieve despite socio-political and economic challenges.
My first over the phone interview was with Rubaiya Ahmed, who founded Obhoyaronno in the year 2009 as a way to heal from a very personal loss. After spending 10 years in the United States of America, Rubaiya returned to Dhakaand began to work at her full-time job, unaware of the system then implemented in Dhaka to control the stray dog population. In 2009, Rubaiya’s own pet dog was killed by Dhaka City Corporation workers, as part of their program to ‘control’ the population of stray and thus reduce the risk of rabies. With the loss of her furry friend who was confused for a stray dog and killed, Rubaiya first became aware of the inhumane practice which didn’t need to be the solution to prevent Rabies.
That incident motivated her to look deeper into the problems of this system and try to come up with better and alternative solutions. By founding Obhoyaronno, Rubaiya and her team of trained vets are now able to implement a system of Rabies prevention called CNVR (Catch Neuter Vaccinate Return). “Since then, Obhoyaronno has been running the country’s first CNVR programme in Dhaka with support from Dhaka City Corporation, Humane Society International and FAO”, explained Rubaiya.
She elaborated on how the team of 3 veterinary surgeons and 14 animal welfare officers (all of whom refresh and update their training every year) helped make this program a reality. “It is not done in random areas based on requests but rather it is very methodical. Say we work on Ward No. 46, at least 80% dogs in this ward need to be covered before moving on to ward no. 47. We cannot respond to complaints of stray dog populations out of order as we need to follow the schedule and continue in that manner.Till date 17,000 dogs have been processed by our CNVR program.”
The CNVR program has since then been well-accepted and appreciated by the government of Bangladesh, local authorities, the local community and has received several local and international awards including the “Humane Society International Animal Advocate of the Year” award in 2012.
When asked if this is a model that should be copied and implemented by other volunteer groups, Rubaiya also explains the risks associated with it. The importance of trained, skilled and certified professionals to carry out the surgical procedures is paramount to bring about good health outcomes for the animals. Furthermore, there are unique aspects of the type of surgery performed so the animals can be quickly released back into their natural habitat without requiring extensive post-op care. All these coupled with the essential collaborations with local authorities make it a slightly more strategic project that may not be possible for civilian volunteers to necessary partake in. However, the overwhelming support of civilians through small donations and acceptance of the program symbolizes their appreciation of what Obhoyaronno has achieved.
Advocacy from individuals, online communities of animal activists and non-profits have helped change the general attitude of the average Bangladeshi on the issue, although a lot more work remains to be done. The animal cruelty act of 1920s was the only piece of legislation that covered this issue and needless to say it required updating. Finally, 100 years later in July of 2019, this became a reality in Bangladesh.
Rakibul Haq Emil
Founder, PAW FOUNDATION
In the year 2012, Rakibul Haq Emil found himself rescuing stray animals, often injured and tormented by automobile accidents or direct civilian abuse. Rakibul felt an innate moral obligation to do something for pets who didn’t deserve to suffer at the hands of humans desperate to urbanize and self-preserve.
In particular, Rakibul recalls a paralyzed dog named Maloti, whom he had rescued and attempted to give a better life to. Unfortunately, he was not able to give Maloti a better life, but he became determined to find friends and community members who felt the same way he did. In 2014, he began to organize people who also supported animal rights and preservation of their lives. Finally, in 2015, he was able to form PAW FOUNDATION.
While the main goal of this foundation is to promote compassionate values towards animals and fight for legislative change, there are many different “wings” of the foundation which are helping to work towards the goal. One such wing of this foundation is the non-profit veterinary clinic called “PAW LIFE CARE.” The in-patient part of the clinic is great for rescue and rehabilitation of animals, while the out-patient wing allows community members to bring in their pets for swift treatments and consultations from the trained vets.
Apart from that, there is a legal wing of the foundation which actively engages perpetrators of animal cruelty by using legal avenues and tools. This wing has filed multiple police cases against animal abusers, sent legal notices threatening to file cases against communities who actively torture or cull animals.
“We have sent A Demand of Justice to the Forest Department and Rural Electrification Board to remove and stop the electric lines passing through the reserve forest of Modhupur. It caused the injuries of local monkeys by electrification”, said Rakibul.
In order to encourage other young animal rights activists to get involved across the country, the foundation has started an award for the most compassionate animal lover working at the root level. The award is named “Pranibondhu Award” and it is a way to encourage the humanity and compassion among the youth for stray animals who face the brunt of abuse from civilians.
Stray animals were referred to as “Bewarish”, a slang for unwated and orphaned, by local authorities and even in legislation. Through advocacy from organizations like these, the term has been replaced to “unowned” animals, who do not belong to any particular human, but are free. Changes like these, accompanied by legal proceedings followed up by the foundation are helping to pressurize authorities to begin to take animal cruelty seriously. Every positive verdict in support of animal rights groups that brings animal abusers to justice adds to the power of this movement.
Founder, Animal Lovers Bangladesh
At the age of 12, Dipanwita Ridi rescued her first kitten when she saw some children bothering and hurting her. A week later, she rescued a puppy from a similar situation. It didn’t take long for Dipanwita to realize that she has a special spot in her heart for these furbabies and that she needs to do something to help them.
As the number of rescue animals kept increasing, it became difficult for her to house them in her apartment in Dhaka city. Soon enough, people were bringing rescued animals to her to foster while they figured out how to house them with loving families. In 2013, Dipanwita moved to a spacious village home which she transformed into an animal shelter.
General people;s understand of animal cruelty was still limited and so cases of abuse and cruelty were rampant. She was getting dozens of injured animals who had been rescued. The goal of the Animal Lovers Bangladesh shelter is to temporarily house rescued animal and helped them find good, loving and permanent homes.
Many people use pets to breed them, many then try to sell them for a profit like commodities. These are aspects of the pet industry that Dipanwita and other activists find deeply disturbing. This is why their shelter’s slogan is “Don’t buy, Adopt!” With that in mind, her goal is to help find loving homes for all the hundreds of rescued animals that end up at her shelter. Dipanwita also points out that simply adopting isn’t enough. Any responsible pet parent would need to cat-proof or dog-proof their homes so the pets do not leave the home. Often run-away pets get lost, injured, pregnant, or infected when domestic pets end up on the streets.
“The purpose of my shelter in Narayanganj is to shelter cats and dogs in need who won’t survive on the street by themselves. Most of them were extremely sick, injured or abandoned by their owner. We rescued orphans without a mother cat, pregnant mother cats and dogs, handicapped animals with permanent physical or mental injuries. We have paralyzed, blind cats, and cats with epilepsy or nerve problems. They get to have safe place, food and treatment at the shelter until we can find a loving home for them. Since 2013 I sheltered around 2000 animals. And there are always 50/60 cats and 20 dogs at the shelter at any given time. They get their monthly routine check up, defleeing and dworking medication here and all of them are vaccinated and neutered”, said Dipanwita.
With her enthusiastic group of youth volunteers from the community, she is hopeful that things will turn around with awareness. Purchases of pets are dropping and adoption rates are increasing, according to Dipanwita’s personal experiences. These shine a ray of hope that someday every cat and dog in her shelter will have a loving home to return to.
Wild Animal Conservation Activist & Facility Manager
Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA)
Since his childhood, Fahim Zaman was awestruck by the beauty of wild animals of channels like National Geography. In 2013, Fahim would go out for adventures in the wild where he would observe wild animal in their natural habitat. As much as he adored them, he knew that the wild if where these animals belonged.
“In terms of conservation the first real project I volunteered for was with Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA). They were radio tracking wild pythons and Elongated tortoises in north east Bangladesh. We would go out to the fields to track those animals to know further about how they behave when relocated form/near villages. Later I did volunteer for them quite a few more time in some other projects.”
Fahim is currently working for Creative Conservation Alliance as a facility manager for their Turtle Conservation Center. It is a Captive breeding facility for critically endangered turtles and tortoises of Bangladesh, who are bred to increase and reinstate their normal population for future release into the wild.
“Our main focus is the forests of Chittagong hill tracks. The bio diversity is incomparable to any other forest in the country and the government pays very little attention to it due to its remote location. We take both a top down and a bottom up approach to save the forest, the wild life and the communities living there”, explained Fahim. In his case, Fahim is mostly working with Asian Gaint Tortoise species which is almost on the brink of extinction. His favourite part is to see the released tortoises laying eggs and those eggs eventually hatching to make more babies in the wild. “It’s takes a long time to see the fruit of this work since these animals take about 20 years to reach sexual maturity.”
The CCA also focuses on awareness and education. “We do speech and presentations in schools and universities to inspire youth to come forward and work in this field. Out center is open to them to know further about how conservation work being carried out in Bangladesh. We even teach kids in our remote school located deep inside Bandarban about the importance of the forest for their survival and how the symbiotic relation can help both parties. We believe teaching the next generation will ensure the forest stays protected by the communities living in them. For tourism it’s a totally different issue, bigger things like that need policy changes which is a whole other chapter,” mentioned Fahim.
All animals, be they stray animals on the streets of Dhaka or wild ones on the sandy beaches of our country deserve to live, grow and continue the existence of their species. Human intervention, be it in the form of cruelty and abuse or taking away their breeding grounds essential for the survival of their progeny, have ultimately endangered these creatures and trampled on their rights as a member of the ecosystem. Nonetheless individuals, organizations, volunteers and donors of such initiatives give us hope to a changing landscape when it comes to animal rights in Bangladesh.