Converting Nagaland’s hunting community from poachers to protectors of the Amur Falcon - one of the longest travelling migratory raptor birds – is being hailed as the biggest wildlife conservation story in India by wildlife experts. Now, the same success story is on its way to be replicated in Manipur where the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is working in tandem with forest officials and local communities for Amur Falcon conservation.
Nagaland conservationist Nuklu Phom has been felicitated with the prestigious Whitley 2021 award for his efforts at saving Amur Falcons.“The human race has destroyed forest and environment owing to which nature is exhibiting its fury in the form of natural calamities. People in the North-East are facing these disasters for last 15 years. To strike the balance, I convinced people in Yaongyimchen in Longleng district of Nagaland to set aside 800 hectare of community land to grow a healthy forest where no human interference was permitted. Just last year, we calculated around 1.5 lakh Amur falcons roosting in this forest, which is a big jump from 50,000 falcons in 2010,” he said. “Other wild species also benefitted from this endeavor. Now with instant global recognition and prize money (around 40 lakh), I will be able to convince and financially support more communities to create similar forests,” Phom added.
Indian and international tourists and wildlife lovers who were once shocked by horrifying images of hundreds and thousands of Amur Falcons being hunted by locals in Pangti village of Nagaland in 2012, now visit it and other surrounding villages to capture camera images of these magnificent birds roosting fearlessly on trees around local water bodies. Nagas have opened home-stays and many became wildlife guides in these areas. Manipur, with the help of WII, is now following in the footsteps of Nagaland.
R.Suresh Kumar, WII scientist, told the NewsClick, “Despite the fact that a couple of the birds were shot down and some stopped transmitting ever since radio tagging of Amur Falcons was first started by WII in Nagaland in 2013 and Manipur in 2018, there was no gap in tracking because some or the other birds were transmitting data about their movement.”
It was found out that these raptor birds arrived in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Assam, after travelling for almost 29,000 kilometres from their summer breeding grounds in Siberia and northeast China. They halt in India for refuelling or feeding on insects like locusts and termites from crop fields, and then fly non-stop to their wintering destination in Somalia in South Africa.
Kumar said that Manipur forest department was participating in the Amur Falcon awareness program. “I am also sharing all the information related to tracking of this species flight which includes their stop over points in North–East region of India to enable forest officials to take adequate measures for the protection and habitat management of these birds with the help of local communities at these particular spots,” he said.
Hitler Singh Kharibhom, divisional forest official of Tamenglong in Manipur, said, “Two Amur Falcons were fitted with satellite radio transmitters by the state forest department in collaboration with the WII to study and monitor the route of the migratory birds in 2018. Of these one was hunted while the other stopped transmitting in Zambia. In 2019, five more birds were released with satellite transmitters from Puching village of Tamenglong. Out of these three were active but two of them successfully reached the roosting site in Puching on October 26 and 27 respectively last year. Facebook posts by the Ministry of Environment and Science and Climate Change and, of the Union Environment minister hailed the successful arrival of the falcons in Manipur. Now they are waiting these two who are transmitting data to descend in Puching for the third consecutive year.
Kumar said local people were told not to hunt or sell Amur with warning of punitive action under provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act.
When it comes to the local community, Nehemiah Panmei, director of Tamenglong Bamboo and Cane Development Centre and the honorary wildlife warden in Tamenglong district is playing a pivotal role in convincing the locals to the tread better path of conservation. He told NewsClick that the ancestors in Manipur hailed Amur Falcons as ‘Birds of God” and considered them auspicious and a sign of good harvest if they came in large numbers. However, it was in the 70s and 80s that locals began hunting and making money from their sale during one and a half months of their stay in Manipur from October end onwards.
““It is when we noticed rings in the legs of falcons hunted some years ago and then we learnt that they are being ringed by researchers in South Africa and realised they were travelling from far away countries. So I started telling local people that they should desist from hunting as bird lovers from abroad may come here to see them so people may earn more money as a wildlife tourism site than killing the birds,” Panmei said.
“I also make them realise why our ancestors would call them good for harvest as these birds feed on locusts and termites, which otherwise damage our crops. A biblical reference was also made to appeal to the largest Christian community,” Panmei said, adding that, “Besides this, I also revived traditional folk tribal dance which are affiliated with our wildlife. Now, every year we are celebrating Amur Falcon dance festival in November when these birds descend on our land.”
Suresh Kumar further said that WII has met all its set objectives including creation of mass awareness, prevention of hunting and generation of data and information about the rapots’ route all these years. “We have trained local people in installing and monitoring camera traps and preparing biodiversity inventory. Now I am nearing compilation of an exhaustive report on the species which hopefully will be out by next month,” he added.