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From low-lying rivers running through the land, sky-searching mountaintops, and meandering rainforests tracing the south, Bangladesh is rich in biodiversity. This, no doubt, extends to its vast animal life. Elephants often roamed freely, the Bengal tiger once stood proud in its majesty, and the gaur moved freely without threat. As of now, all are deemed threatened or endangered by the IUCN. Often the target of poaching and habitat destruction, Bangladesh’s unique animal population is facing an epidemic of inaction. Though protective legislation exists, there are often seething gaps in textual language that reduces their effectiveness. Coupled with sporadic enforcement, animal rights are too frequently rendered a secondary consideration. Nonetheless, there has been, however slow-paced, positive change, often stemming from increased awareness and engagement through the court system. This week guest writer Nafisa Ehsan will provide an overview of what protections exist for animals in Bangladesh.

Current Legal Framework

Bangladesh is a dualist common law jurisdiction. As such, animal laws are guided through statutory material, case law, as well as the Constitution. Obligations stemming from international agreements must, if they are to have effect within Bangladesh, be translated into domestic statute. 

It should be importantly noted that Bangladesh, both from political and legal perspectives, has recognised the necessity of protecting animals. This is most suitably demonstrated through the Constitution. Indeed, Article 18A specifies that, as a State, ‘it shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment’, including specifically protecting ‘biodiversity’ and ‘wildlife for the present and future citizens’. Correspondingly, honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed that human behaviour has “aggravate[ed]…loss of biodiversity” and declared that such actions “are not only causing extinction of other species” but contribute to the “ultimate extinction of human beings if our current actions continue to be unchecked”. Though these sentiments are somewhat reflected in Bangladesh’s legal framework, most existing legislative efforts remain limited in their obligations and often lack credible enforcement mechanisms. 

Prevention of Cruel Treatment

Bangladesh’s efforts for preventing maltreatment of animals have been concentrated on the Cruelty to Animals Act 1920 and the Animal Welfare Act 2019. Though the latter repeals the former, it is important to note how legal efforts were shifted over almost a century. 

The Cruelty to Animals Act 1920 (‘CRA 1920’) sought to reduce the suffering of farmed animals. It, somewhat vaguely and less scientifically, defines an animal as ‘any domestic or captured animal’ (Art. 3(1)). For animals, the CRA 1920 imposes a metric for cruelty, provides limitations on killing, and details penalties for such offences. It does not ban cruelty or infliction of pain outright; rather, the CRA 1920 specifically states that any individual who imposes ‘cruelty or unnecessarily beats’, ‘ill-treats any animal’, or ‘subject[s] the animal to unnecessary pain or suffering’ has committed a punishable offence (Art. 4(a)-(c)). The relevant penalty was a fine of up to 100 taka, a prison sentence of up to 3 months, or a combination of both (Art. 4(c)). Similar penalties follow for killing ‘any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner’, for a fine extending up to 200 taka, a maximum prison sentence of 6 months, or both (Art. 7). If an ‘unfit’ animal is used for labour, a fine of 100 taka may be imposed (Art. 10).

What is most glaringly limited is what constitutes treatment in an ‘unnecessarily cruel manner’ or what specifically may render an animal ‘unfit’. Such interpretation provides leeway for abuse. Complementarily, there is no concrete obligation to take action on the Government’s part. Enforcement ‘may’ be instilled through Veterinary Inspectors, if the Government wishes (Art. 15(a)). Additionally, if 3 months have passed since the commission of unnecessary cruelty to an animal, there can be no prosecution (Art. 32). The ambiguous textual language, lack of obligations, and deprivation of efficient enforcement measures undermine the very essence of the CRA 1920. 

The CRA 1920 was repealed by the Animal Welfare Act 2019 (‘AWA 2019’) to remedy such defects. Namely, through stronger textual language. This includes more wider and accurate definitions, more nuanced description of offences, and higher penalties. In the AWA 2019, an animal encompasses non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, ‘aquatic animals other than fish’, and any which the Government may recognise via the Official Gazette (Art. 2(11)). Among such definitions include that of a ‘sick animal’ (Art. 2(2)), a ‘captive animal’ (Art. 2(3)), ‘domestic animal’ (Art. 2(6)), and an ‘unowned animal’ (Art. 2(16)). 

The AWA 2019 seeks to also clarify unelaborated metrics that were initially mentioned in the CRA 1920. What constitutes ‘unnecessary cruelty to animals’ now includes ‘any act or omission’ that results in the animal suffering disease (Art. 6(a)), beating or overworking (Art. 6(b)), depriving said animal with insufficient sustenance (Art. 6(c)), and the injection of harmful drugs (Art. 6(h)). This remains a non-exhaustive list. It is now formally the responsibility of every ‘owner or keeper of every animal’ to ensure the animal is treated benevolently, humanely, and without undue cruelty (Art. 4). There are also increased traceability and registration measures for commercial production of pets (Art. 9(1)). Those who impose ‘unnecessary cruelty’ on the animals or kills ownerless animals ‘shall be punished’ with maximum 6 months imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 taka, or both (Art. 16(a)). Disfigurement (Art. 10(1)) or poisoning (Art. 11(1)) may result in imprisonment up to a term of 2 years, a fine of 50,000 taka, or both (Art. 16(b)). In an extension of liability, companies can also be held responsible (Art. 17).

The improved enforcement measures also now empower authorities to ‘inspect all registered and unregistered farms’ ‘at any time’ (Art. 13). It also details that when an animal is seized, any costs of assisting in maintaining and recovering the animal shall be borne by relevant authorities or supervisors (Art. 15(3)). However, clarity on precisely how enforcement will practically operate still linger. This is due to limited explanation on how widespread monitoring will occur and flexible obligations on authorities to realise the expectations under this law. The AWA 2019’s obligations often remain unimpressed, presenting challenges to realising the improved demands. Though the AWA 2019 is an important demonstration of changing social attitudes and receptiveness to widespread protective measures, there continues to be limited enforcement. 

The slaughtering of animals for the purpose of meat consumption is governed by the Animal Slaughter & Meat Quality Control Act 2011 (Act No. 16 of 2011) (‘2011 Act’). This Act repealed the previous Animals Slaughter (Restriction) and Meat Control Act 1957 (‘1957 Act’). The 1957 Act defines an ‘animal’ as ‘any bull, bullock, cow, ox, heifer, [calf, buffalo, goat and sheep]’ (Art. 2(a)). Restrictions under the 1957 Act included no slaughtering or sale of such animals on prohibited days (Art. 3) and restrictions on killing animals below a certain age. For example, no ‘she-goat or ewe’ under 2 years old ‘or any other female animal below the age of three years’ can be slaughtered (Art. 5(a)). The penalty for violating these provisions included imprisonment of up to 6 months, a fine of up to 1,000 taka, or both (Art. 7(a)). Exceptions to these slaughtering prohibitions, included religious festivals (Art. 9(1)(a)), scientific research purposes (Art. 9(1)(b)), and at the Government’s discretion (Art. 9(2)). Enforcement, such as location inspections, would occur from authorised Officers (Art. 6). 

These provisions were updated by the Animal Slaughter & Meat Quality Control Act 2011 (Act No. 16 of 2011). The 2011 Act, though containing similar provisions to its predecessor, elaborates significantly. This is, firstly, demonstrated through the definitions provided. For example, by describing what an ‘animal’ is, what an ‘animal fit for slaughter’ constitutes, and what a ‘slaughterhouse’ is. An ‘animal’ under the 2011 Act has a flexible definition, naming some examples as ‘ducks, chickens, quails, pigeons, turkeys, etc’, as well as any other animal declared as such by the Government (Art. 2(12)). An ‘animal fit for slaughter’ is described as ‘any healthy animal’ as so declared by a Veterinary Officer or a veterinarian (Art. 2(7)). A ‘slaughterhouse’ is defined as any Government approved building for the purposes of slaughter, and examining animals pre and post-slaughter (Art. 2(8)). Such slaughterhouses require a licence to operate (Art. 8-10). There are more stringent prohibition mechanisms, ensuring that animals (for the purposes of human consumption) cannot be slaughtered outside of a Government approved slaughterhouse (Art. 3(1)). There are exceptions to this, such as for religious festivals (Art. 3(1)(a)). Animals may also be protected from slaughter on specific days (Art. 15). 

For monitoring purposes, designated Veterinary Officers or veterinarians are required to examine the animals brought to the slaughterhouse (Art. 5(2)). The Director General and authorised Veterinary Officers are able to inspect the premises of slaughterhouses and establishments that sell meat, taking action when necessary (Art. 12). If there has been slaughtering of animals in contravention to the 2011 Act’s provisions, then authorised officials can seize the meat products or the vehicles in which they are being transported (Art. 22). The penalty for contravening the 2011 Act includes imprisonment between 1-5 years, a fine between 1,000 – 25,000 taka, or both (Art. 24(1)). Repeat offenders suffer higher sentences (Art. 24(2)). 

Whilst the 2011 Act contains stringent rules, punitive measures, and enforcement mechanisms, there is often lack of formal accountability. These weak traceability and recordation mechanisms for slaughtered animals means that there continues to be unchecked mistreatment of animals. Such weak enforcement mechanisms often exacerbate the illegal cattle trade occurring between India and Bangladesh, where up to 2 million cattle are shifted per year. This only reduces the already sparse protections afforded to animals fit for slaughter. Though the recent 2011 Act is an important step forward for animal protection, it is rendered largely ineffective because of sparse monitoring, illegal trade, and inflexible solutions. 

Protection of wildlife

Bangladesh possesses an abundance of wildlife. At present, there are 56 protected areas, 15 of which are wildlife sanctuaries. The Sundarbans, one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, is categorised as a World Heritage Site. Accordingly, Bangladesh rightly devotes several statutes and international instruments to the protection of both animals and their habitats. This confluence of both national and international law has established an impressive regime for wildlife protection. However, as seen before, enforcement and monitoring mechanisms are few and far between, undermining the protective obligations of these laws. 

The Bangladesh Wild Life (Preservation) Order 1973 (‘1973 Order’) focuses on limiting the hunting and sale of wildlife animals. To do so, the 1973 Order defines and classifies wildlife animals, limits hunting, and establishes the Bangladesh Wild Life Advisory Board. In comparison to the earlier CRA 1920, the 1973 Order defines a ‘wild animal’ as ‘any vertebrate creature, other than human beings and animals of usually domesticated species or fish’ (Art. 2(o)). A ‘wild life sanctuary’ is a restricted area that protects animals, provides for their growth and breeding, and bans any form of ‘hunting, shooting, or trapping of wild animals’ (Art. 2(p)). This latter definition also provides the Government with the freedom to introduce new wildlife sanctuaries (Art. 2(p)). In addition to prescriptive definitions, this Order also lists several ‘Protected Animals’ under the Third Schedule (Art. 5(2)), including the Bengal tiger, panther, sloth bear, and common Dolphin. 

Enforcement would fall to the Government and the Wild Life Advisory Board. The Government can deem certain areas wildlife sanctuaries (Art. 23(1)). This provides several protections to this area, including the prevention of human access (Art. 23(2)(i)) and prevention of hunting (Art. 23(2)(iv)). The Wild Life Advisory Board is required to ‘perform such functions as the Government may assign to it’ (Art. 4(2)). Though such a broad remit may have been an opportunity to enhance the Board’s role, it has also infused their role with uncertainty. 

This 1973 Order was repealed by the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012 (No. XXX) (‘WCSA 2012’). Again, the WCSA 2012 only limits the hunting of wild animals by requiring a licence or permit to do so (Art. 6(1)). The definition of ‘wild animals’ was slightly more broad, and referred to ‘different types and species of animals or different stages of their life cycle, the source of which is considered as wild’ (Art. 2(25)). The WCSA 2012 also clarified the duties of the Wildlife Advisory Board, which now includes having ‘to review the activities’ (Art. 3(2)(b)) ‘and provide directives in the matter of conservation, development and management of biodiversity, wildlife and forests’ (Art. 3(2)(a)). Enforcement will be supplemented by a wildlife control unit ‘to ensure strict compliance’ (Art. 31(1)). Higher penalties also exist. For example, for killing animals mentioned under Schedule I, such as a tiger or elephant, without a licence is rendered an offence, ‘shall be non-bailable’, and may result in a prison sentence between 2-7 years, accompanied with a fine of 1-10 lakh (Art. 36(1)).

Complementarily, the imposition of international law has helped steer and improve Bangladesh’s legislative progression. This is exemplified by the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992 (‘the CBD 1992’). Having been ratified by Bangladesh in 1994, the CBD 1992 primarily requires parties to support ‘the conservation of biological diversity’ (Art. 1). This includes establishing ‘national strategies, plans or programmes’ for this purpose (Art. 6(a)). The bound States have a duty not to backslide and would be held accountable through reporting obligations (Art. 26), such as National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (‘NBSAP’). Bangladesh’s NBSAP 2016-2021 details its efforts, such as ‘the updating of the Red-list of animals’ (pp. 5), recognising the impact of human behaviour (pp. 15), and reflections on current laws and policies. This includes identifying gaps in policies, of which there are many, including lack of protection of endangered animals for the purposes of export in the Export Policy

To meet the obligations of the CBD 1992, Bangladesh has implemented the Biodiversity Act 2017 (‘BA 2017’). The BA 2017 also specifically encapsulates ‘species diversity’ within its definition of biodiversity (Art. 2(11)). The designated National Committee on Biodiversity (Art. 8(1)) includes helping to recognise ‘areas of biodiversity importance’ and declare Biodiversity Heritage Sites (Art. 10(d)). The Government are able to declare such areas through a notice in the Gazette (Art. 32(1)). For the purposes of monitoring and awareness, some of the functions of the Municipal Biodiversity Management and Monitoring Committee include registering the biodiversity of such municipal areas and encouraging local preservation efforts (Art. 24). The BA 2017 continues the NBSAP obligations originally envisioned in the CBD 1992 on a much looser scale, requiring an update on conservation efforts only from ‘time to time’ (Art. 31(1)). There are more wide-ranging restrictions on activities that could adversely affect ‘endangered species or wildlife’ (Art. 33). The penalty for carrying out such activities or interference ‘will be a crime’ and can result in imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to 10 lakhs, or both (Art. 41).  

Bangladesh has also utilised international conservation efforts to assist in localised protections. This is highlighted through the Memorandum of Understanding between India and Bangladesh on Conservation of the Sundarban 2011 (‘MoU’). Focusing specifically on the Sundarban region, India and Bangladesh have sought to ‘consider and adopt appropriate joint management and joint monitoring of resources’ (Art. 2(a)). Despite this engagement, conservation efforts in the area have been undermined by the building of large infrastructures nearby, such as the coal-burning Rampal Power Station. With this Power Station being a collaboration between both India and Bangladesh, the weight of their MoU has significantly been reduced and places the local environment and wildlife at risk. 


Bangladesh’s legislative landscape indicates an awareness and increasing support from animal welfare. This is evident through the recent Biodiversity Act 2017 and Animal Welfare Act 2019. Such Acts are complemented by international obligations and instruments, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992. However, the reach and capabilities of these legal instruments are often undermined by weak enforcement measures and inefficient public engagement. For a more robust landscape of animal rights to develop, there must be an evolution in public awareness, legislative clarity, and increased accountability for violators. 

Getting advice

This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact

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