Amur Falcon Conservation Project, Nagaland by Nagaland

Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust (NWBCT)

The shocking news of mass killing of Amur Falcons – each weighing under 200 gms – in the north eastern State of Nagaland was first revealed in October 2012 by Conservation India. Traditionally, the Naga’s have been hunting all kinds of game and there have been sporadic reports of huge number of such birds being killed from time to time. However, when Ramki Sreenivasan of Conservation India and his colleagues visited the Doyang Reservoir in Wokha District they were able to document and film the many thousands of Amur Falcons being caught and sold in the surrounding markets. He and Shashank Dalvi quickly galvanised a rapid-action team with the resourceful Ms. Bano Haralu of Nagaland Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust. A number of conservation agencies including Birdlife international, UK agreed to jointly fund a concerted effort to stop the massacre of these migratory raptors that pass through the Indian subcontinent on their way to southern Africa where they spend the winter.

Conservation Success: In a spectacular turnaround, the scene of last year’s (2012) mass killings of Amur Falcons in Nagaland in India’s Northeast revealed a peaceful haven for tens of thousands of the very same birds, congregating in a stopover during their annual migration through the State. Credit for this astonishing conservation turnaround should go to the concerted effort of the Nagaland government as well as the local communities who rose gracefully to occasion and swore to end the killings by becoming ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’

Every day, tens of thousands of falcons gather along the banks of the Doyang reservoir in Wokha district of Nagaland in a spectacle that can only be seen to be believed. These are probably the largest congregations of migratory raptors anywhere in the world as they climax in mind-boggling numbers around the reservoir. Before and after this Doyang ‘bottleneck’ these birds are never seen in these numbers. The forest department, along with the district administration, local NGOs and the police, set-up ground patrols as well as checks on local markets. The church, which has a big say in Naga social life, has been conducting special services on Sundays to spread the conservation message. Principally, the Government of Nagaland, at every level, committed to end the killings. It created widespread awareness both with the local administration and the forest department as well as with the communities that were involved with the hunting. Over the year, the entire machinery geared up systemically to face the 2013 season. NWBCT associates were in constant touch with the government right through. It should be noted that the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Wokha, Mr. R. Vyasan, was one of the first people in the government administration to stop the killings by reissuing the hunting ban immediately after the matter was reported to his office. The momentum was maintained right through 2013 and the DC’s office played a vital role in keeping the forest department informed of developments in the village and also of NGO interventions in the area. NWBCT has been in constant touch with the community since the discovering of the killings.

Education Initiatives: NWBCT was generously supported in its flagship conservation education programme by several leading wildlife conservation organisations like Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Birdlife International, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Raptor Research and Conservation Foundation (RRCF) and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT). They set up base right at the heart of the community in Pangti village (the oldest and the largest village in Wokha) and enlisted support of several local community members to be part of the initiative. Building awareness about the Amur Falcon and its conservation was their core focus.
In August 2013, NWBCT kicked off their ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’ campaign with a conservation education programme covering the important villages that witnessed hunting last year. In a message of support to NWBCT’s ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’ initiative, 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”.

NWBCT formed three Ecoclubs admitting children from the villages of Pangti & Sungro, Ashaa and Doyang. The formation of these Ecoclubs was preceded by a weeklong workshop for recruiting teachers to create and manage the Ecoclubs. NWBCT with Go Wild and Dusty Foot produced a special manual on the Amur Falcon which the 70-odd children of the Ecoclubs use as an introduction to the bird as well as a basic introduction to the world of wildlife and nature. The essence of NWBCT’s initiative was an Amur Falcon specific programme with customised teaching manuals used with teachers and with kids. An intensive ‘Under the Canopy’ programme trained around 20 local teachers who weekly run four Ecoclubs where children are taught about falcons.

Northeast Survey for Migratory Routes and Hunting Pressures: NWBCT’s also conducted a comprehensive Amur Falcon survey in Northeast India in October and November 2013. Shashank Dalvi (wildlife biologist with Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore) led a team of volunteer birders across 13 locations in Northeast India surveying for migrating falcons, their numbers, routes, roosts and potential hunting pressures. NWBCT sincerely wishes to thank the volunteers Saurabh Sawant, Ramit Singal, Sathya Chandra Sagar, Pratik Modi, Chandu Bandi and Avishkar Munje. Hunting of falcons was observed in three of the thirteen locations. These sites were Ledo in east Assam, Haflong and Umrangso in south Assam. Hunting in Ledo and Haflong was observed to be small scale. However, large scale hunting in Umrangso is a huge cause for concern.

Way Ahead – Ensuring Long-term Sustainability Many factors influenced the end of the mass massacre of the Amur Falcons in various degrees of success. Different groups of communities are involved making decision-making more difficult. The fishing community plays an important part in measures envisaged for stopping the hunting and their needs have to be addressed in a positive manner and so there needs to be more follow-up wildlife and skill development workshops which can ensure the safe passage of these birds. The Chief Minister, Mr. Rio clearly stated that there could be no “compensation for conservation; only education”. The way forward in 2014 and the years to come to permanently ensure the safe passage of the falcons will have to see the engagement of local communities in alternate livelihoods and in particular measures to assist the fishermen in their profession. There is a need to work toward the well-being of the fishing community by supporting their fishing.

The Team lead by Ms. Bano Haralu and Ramki Sreenivasan