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     Volume 4 Issue 30 | January 21, 2005 |

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Special Feature

When Birds Mean

Morshed Ali Khan

Born to a poor family on the bank of the river Buriganga in Char Wasspur, Din Islam was forced to drop out of school at a very early age. The eldest of six brothers and sisters, Islam's childhood was mostly confined to a workshop that operated lathe machines. Later, as a young man, Islam learnt to repair various electronic appliances and earned a meagre sum working at a shop in the city's Jigatola area.

It was back in the eighties, a few years after he got married, that a small event changed his life altogether. On a shopping trip to New Market, his three-year-old daughter Shumi, pointed her finger at some caged birds and said she did not want a frock but two of those munias instead. Islam quickly gave in to Shumi's demands.

At home Islam and his daughter enjoyed the company of the munias. Several years later, when a friend told him that he could legally breed many other birds in captivity, Islam grabbed the idea.

Islam recalls how he had lied to his wife, Laila Islam alias Parveen, about the price of the three pairs of Java, each pair costing Tk 1,800. "I did not dare tell Parveen, who bore the brunt of the hardship at home, that I had invested my savings of Tk 5,400 on those three pairs of Javas."

Three months after the Javas had hatched a dozen chicks, a buyer arrived at Islam's doorstep. For Islam, it was a day he would never forget. The chicks fetched him Tk 20,000 in cash.

"How come chicks are so highly priced while you told me the three adult pairs were 360 taka?" Islam quoted his wife saying. Islam says he eventually confessed to Parveen but explained to her that he had concealed the fact for the sake of the family's welfare. From that day on Islam and Parveen have never looked back.

Twelve years later, the Islam family, with two sons and a college-going Shumi, is one of the most successful breeders of caged birds in the country, having more than 1,000 rare and common birds of various species. Islam and Parveen have bought an acre of land by the river and set up their farm, which the entire family looks after. Buyers from all over the country come to Islam every day. And the good thing is Islam and Parveen do not preserve any trade secret as the couple readily offers all sorts of dos and don'ts to people who want to join the business.

Breeding of caged birds is spreading fast in the country. Like the Islams, there are more than 200 breeders in the country producing both common and rare birds in cages. With a perfectly ideal climate for round-the-year breeding in Bangladesh, the sector promises a huge prospect in the international market.

With 102 members, Azizul Haque Farhad is the Senior Vice President of the Bangladesh Cage Bird Breeders Association (BCBBA). He says that Islam's story could encourage young men to join the trade, which is easy, cheap and extremely rewarding. Some people believe that caging is a cruelty to birds but Farhad explains that the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) recognises keeping and breeding of exotic birds in cages.

Had it not been for the bird breeders, the world would have known nothing or little about the existence of more than 300 types of lovebirds, Farhad says. "Today, only two types of lovebirds are found in the wild and hundreds of species have simply become extinct from the wild," he says.

"You may start breeding in a small cage anywhere at home and all it takes is a maximum time of 30 minutes a day," continued Farhad, "it is always preferable to buy, say, if you choose to buy Budgeriger, three months old chicks, with proper care in another three months' time the birds will start laying eggs."

Breeding of exotic birds could bring prosperity to anyone. Although the local markets are limited within the connoisseurs and in places like Katabon in Dhaka, more and more people are going into this legitimate business. Breeding can be so lucrative a business that if you present five pairs of Budgeriger to a poor girl of Class 4 in a village and teach her how to maintain them, she would not only be totally self-reliant within five years but also be able to pay for her higher studies and marriage, says Farhad.

Bulbul Ahmed, a photojournalist for New Age was inspired by the pioneer of exotic bird breeding in Bangladesh, late Matiar Rahman Sanu. Bulbul says that he and his wife look after the birds they have at home. "When we are with the birds I forget everything, there is no tension, no stress whatsoever, and both of us know we have a substantial income coming from them," Bulbul said.

Officials of the BCBBA say that the demand for exotic birds in the international market is very high but since it is a new domain, it has not taken proper shape in Bangladesh. The government is indifferent to it and cannot be convinced that this can also be a profitable industry. For instance, recently Prime Aviary, a local company applied for a loan of three crore taka from the Rajshahi Krishi Bank to set up a large exotic bird breeding farm in Sherpur, Bogra. The whole idea generated disbelief among the bank officials, who turned down the application terming it "absurd".

According to BCBBA officials, three years ago, a German pet shop wanted 500 pairs of lovebirds from Bangladesh every month over an indefinite period but all breeders combined could not fulfill the demand. Unless there is an industry, this sort of large scale production will not be possible.

Local breeders complain about the hassle they face with the customs while importing exotic birds from abroad. Interestingly, Environment and Forest and Fisheries and Livestock ministries are now at loggerheads over who will take control of the bird breeding sector. Recently an importer was in big trouble when the Forest Department confiscated an imported consignment worth more than Tk 3 lakh. It contained 52 fancy pigeons, each pair worth Tk 10,000 in the local market, three pairs of fancy hens and other exotic birds. The Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock had earlier issued permission to import these birds. The Department of Forest brushed aside the livestock ministry's clearance and confiscated the stock at the airport and sold the consignment on auction at an 'unbelievable' price of Tk 7,000.

With the frequent tussles between the two ministries, the importers and breeders went to the Environment and Forest Minister, who, in turn, formed a committee to chalk out an official guideline on import and breeding of fancy birds. In the country the wildlife preservation act of 1974 gives a guideline on the import of wild animals but it does not mention anything about exotic birds bred in captivity. Since May 2004, the committee, headed by Joint Secretary (admin) Mihir Kanti Majumdar, has held two meetings without much progress about the establishment of a guideline. Meanwhile, breeders and importers continue to be hassled.

If you are keen on breeding exotic birds the following are the principles to bear in mind. Professional breeder, Azizul Haque Farhad, who is also offering to help anyone interested in breeding, gave these tips.
1. Always buy exotic birds born in captivity.
2 Avoid buying adult birds. An ideal pair should be three month old chicks.
3. Try finding private breeders to buy your birds.
4. Make sure you are buying a male and a female bird for breeding and only experienced breeders could help in this regard.
5. Maintain required space for every different species of exotic bird.
6. Prevention is better than cure -- and always take preventive measures to avoid death of birds.
7. Put a flat bowl with water in it for bathing and keep it only for two hours from 10 am till 12 noon.
8. Take expert advice on food at different stages of breeding.
9. Show your interest during maintenance.
10. Give the birds water that you drink, not water from the tap.
1. Never buy wild birds for keeping or breeding. Remember it is a criminal offence to cage wild birds.
2. Do not leave the food and water unclean at any time. Also never leave the food trolley and water overnight.
3. Do not keep birds where rat infestation is a possibility.
For further information contact Azizul Haque Farhad - 0171544240
or Din Islam - 0171400853

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