India: Amur Falcon campaign update — No killings reported so far this season!

Chief Minister of Nagaland visits Amur Falcon roost site in support of the conservation initiative by the community Updated November 2013. The migration of the Amur Falcons continues in full swing in Doyang, Nagaland, and there continues to be no killings reported so far!

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The attached image above shows The Chief Minister interacting with the ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’ eco club members in Doyang.

To extend his support to the ongoing conservation efforts and to witness first hand the Amur Falcon spectacle, the Nagaland Chief Minister Mr. Neiphiu Rio visited Doyang.

On Sunday, the CM arrived with his wife as well as Minister for Environment and Forests Y Patton, Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Husbandry Yitachu, Parliamentary Secretary Labour and Employment Dr. Nicky Kire and several senior officers from the district administration, police and forest department.

He personally witnessed the spectacle of migrating Amur Falcon congregations and was truly delighted. He photographed them for over two hours. He later addressed the assembled community members, thanked them for their spectacular conservation efforts and listened to Amur Falcon songs sung by our (NWBCT’s) ecoclub members!

The CM was very supportive and repeatedly emphasized the importance of the ongoing education and awareness drives needed to sustain the outcome.

Bano Haralu, who was an invitee to the event, was present with our full team (from Pangti, Sungro & Doyang) along with the children from the ecoclubs.

Great news! The peak migration of Amur Falcons is on, and there have been absolutely no killings reported so far! This remarkable outcome has been the result of a full year of painstaking effort from the Nagaland government (especially the forest department), NGO groups, and most importantly, the local communities who were determined to end the killings.

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A true spectacle, tens of thousands of Amur Falcons migrating safely together for the first time.

Every morning, tens of thousands of falcons gather along the banks of the Doyang reservoir in a spectacle that is impossible to describe in words! These are probably the largest numbers of migratory raptors in the world (of one species!) and they climax in massive congregations along the reservoir. Before and after this ‘bottleneck’ the birds have never been seen in these mind-boggling numbers.

Our team at Nagaland Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust (NWBCT) has set-up month-long Amur Falcon counts across the Northeast in over a dozen locations.

Post Conservation India’s reporting of this incident, and the subsequent national and international outcry, a lot of on-ground conservation initiatives have been initiated in Nagaland. Principally, the Government of Nagaland, at every level, are fully committed to end the killings and have geared up to face this season.

The Nagaland Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust (NWBCT), a Dimapur-based NGO, is leading a comprehensive programme with the support of the government as well as leading conservation NGOs. They have been in touch with various government officials as well as the community members since October last year on ways to stop the killings in 2013. They recently kicked off their ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’ campaign with a conservation education programme covering the important villages in Wokha district. In a message of support, the Chief Minister of Nagaland Mr. Neiphiu Rio stated “The state government is committed to end the unfortunate killings of the migratory Amur Falcons in Nagaland while they are passing through the state. Further, Mr. Rio added, “It is our duty to protect the Amur Falcons and, in true Naga tradition of hospitality, treat them as honoured and esteemed guests”.

In addition, other NGOs like Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Natural Nagas have also been been active in drawing up innovative initiatives to help prevent hunting of the falcons this year.

The Amur falcon is a fascinating bird. It is only the size of a pigeon, but it has one of the longest migratory paths in the bird kingdom, travelling up to 22,000 km in a year. It also survives wholly on insects, making it a very useful bird to have around for farmers. “The ecological significance of this bird is huge,” says Ramki Sreenivasan, wildlife photographer and co-founder of Conservation India, which runs several education centres in the villages. In a “train the trainer” campaign, teachers, church officials, and other village elders are being taught about the falcon and its amazing journey. They, in turn, pass on the message of conservation to hunters and children.

So far, the carrot and stick approach has worked spectacularly. “This hunting season, we have had no killings at all,’ says Sreenivasan. “There is still a long way to go, but the Nagaland government, the central government and the community deserve to be congratulated.” This week, Hungarian scientists working with the local and central government began satellite tagging some of the birds to track their flight paths.

But it may be premature to rejoice. There is already some discontent in the village, with many hunters-and even village heads- arguing they now need an alternative income, if they are to protect the falcon in years to come. There is talk of poultry and fish farming, and demands for government aid. But, as Sreenivasan says, “Money is always used as an excuse for animals being slaughtered, but this kind of hunting has only happened in the last few years. The first priority was to stop the killing of the birds. Now that villagers have given up hunting, parties can come to the table to negotiate alternatives.”

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Migrating Amur Falcons were trapped in their thousands, lets just hope this kind of activity has now been consigned to history!

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