Amur Falcon Conservation in Nagaland, India

Year 3 (2015–16) Update of the ‘Friends on the Amur Falcon’ Programme.

Bano Haralu & Ramki Sreenivasan, NWBCT.

Thanks to the ongoing support of our sponsors.
The Amur Falcon Roosting Site, Nov 2015. All images © Ramki Sreenivasan.

Season Three of Zero Hunting Draws to a Close!

Another dramatic, action-filled year passes. Just like in 2013 and 2014, there continues to be no killings of Amur Falcons during the recently concluded season along the Doyang reservoir, Nagaland. Their numbers were at all-time record levels!

October 2015 marked four years since the massacre of hundreds of thousands of falcons were discovered in Nagaland and published on Conservation India — that led to a major global outcry and the start of a conservation campaign.

It has been a spectacular and unique turnaround since, with all stakeholders joining hands and bringing the killings to an end. It has been an emotional journey for Nagaland and its people to adopt the falcons as source of pride.

Amur Falcons Males

The government, the forest department, local NGOs and, most importantly, the local communities extended their conservation efforts for the third year to ensure there were no trapping or killing of the birds.

Community Ownership

Over the years, ownership of falcon conservation has significantly gone up in the local community. The community-led Amur Falcon Roosting Areas Union (AFRAU), which set up check posts and carried out patrolling in 2014, has become a self-contained initiative with some external funding support from the government and NGOs. They lead events in the community related to the falcons, and keep up round-the-clock patrolling efforts during the season.

An example of local ownership was clearly demonstrated when our team was visiting a remote bank of the reservoir by boat. We found a few Amur Falcons stuck in an old discarded fishing net. Most of the birds were still alive and it was the flutter that caught our attention. We called the union staff (who have a resting shed on the main road near the roost) and in less than 15-minutes a fisherman posted nearby was despatched to the location to cut the nets and release the birds. The net was removed from the location.

(L) A fisherman from the patrolling squad arrives to (R) free the falcons stuck in the net.

A remark by our guide, ex-hunter Thungdemo Yanthan, one morning while returning from routine patrolling, sums up the community’s newfound responsibility: “Now that we know the distance these birds fly to survive, we see them through very different eyes. We feel very protective towards them”.

A patrolling team belonging to the AFRAU

This year, a monolith was unveiled near the Amur Falcon roosting site to commemorate the conservation movement in Pangti — the epicentre of the erstwhile killings. The six-foot monolith has been inscribed with the following words: “We erect this monolith to commemorate the declaration of Pangti of Nagaland as falcon capital of the world.” The stone was inaugurated by the Nagaland Principal Chief Conservator of Forests M. Lokeswara Rao on 20th January, 2016.

The “Green Goal” Football Tournament

In October 2015, the local communities of Pangti, Sungro, Ashaa, Okhotso and Doyang villages, took the celebrations of the arrival of the migratory falcons to the next level! Facilitated by the NWBCT, they organised a 4-day “Green Goal” football tournament from the 20–24th October.

Find below a short video of the tournament done by Green Hub fellowship students, an initiative of Dusty Foot Productions, NWBCT’s partner in the Northeast.

The tournament was held at the Sungro football grounds and eleven teams participated. The event was kicked off by the Parliamentary Secretary of the State, Youth Resources and Sports, Mr. Khriehu Liezietsu on the 20th. This was the first time a sporting event was organized to promote wildlife conservation in the state which was received enthusiastically.

NWBCT’s vision is to make “Green Goal” a state-level (or maybe even a regional) tournament in the coming years to popularise the conservation initiative further.

Conservation Education

A constant in the “Friends of the Amur Falcon” programme are the educators and students of the Ecoclubs. Over 100 children have been introduced to wildlife conservation in these Ecoclubs that cover five villages. Their presence in the villages have become a matter of pride for the community as they relate to them as their commitment to conserve the falcons.

The objectives of the Ecoclubs, now in its fourth year, have remained focussed on:

  1. Introduction to Amur Falcon, its ecology, its importance, the threats and the need to conserve it. And how the community can help.
  2. Introduction to natural history and how to observe it. Introduction to other fauna and build curiosity — birds, insects, moths and butterflies, amphibians and reptiles, etc.
  3. Plan year-round activities the Ecoclubs can conduct after the workshops.

This year, at the peak of the migration season, a four day conservation education refresher workshop was held for educators and students by Sanjay Sondhi, of Titli Trust and Payal Molur of Go Wild Foundation.

A training session in progress, right under the wings of Amur Falcons!

Ecotourism Potential to Sustain Conservation

Tourism is slowly emerging as a meaningful livelihood opportunity. In hindsight, the decision not to focus on tourism in years after the killings was a wise one as it would have raised financial expectations with a potentially deadly backlash. Now, with solid conservation commitment from all parties, the time is ripe for ecotourism. Tourism can make conservation sustainable in a more organic way than the (failed) attempts at compensation for non-hunting. Since 2013, NWBCT has been bringing small groups (including school students) and has been coordinating various low-key activities along with its partners to kick-off this initiative.

Thungdemo Yanthan, Fisherman and ex-Amur Falcon Hunter, now a Boatman and Guide

Ex-hunters can be guides, boatmen, homestay owners, cab drivers, etc. As we are already seeing in the last couple of years, it would not be difficult to attract domestic and global birdwatchers and wildlife photographers to come and watch this unparalleled spectacle of raptor congregations in the scenic backdrop of the Doyang Reservoir. Nowhere in the world do raptors congregate in greater numbers than in Doyang in winter.

Amur Falcons

Local Naga tourists are adding to the slow but steady visitors from outside the state. Hopefully, this would help them appreciate the phenomenon and cement their support for the cause. It would be commendable if global birding groups could visit this region during the upcoming migratory season/s to show support for one of the greatest conservation turnarounds ever

First Union Minister Visits Doyang!

Adding more momentum and solidarity to the conservation efforts, Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Mr. Prakash Javadekar visited Doyang on Nov 16th, 2015 to witness the falcon migration. Javadekar was the First Union Minister to visit the Doyang Reservoir — a significant milestone for the state!

Javadekar (centre, in red shawl) becomes first Union Minister to visit Doyang and witness the Amur Falcon migration (Image © NWBCT)

Applauding the community conservation efforts, Javadekar announced that the central government will soon develop the Doyang reservoir as an ecotourism destination for birdwatchers and nature lovers across the world.

“The world has recognised Pangti village as the world’s Amur Falcon capital. More than one million birds can be seen in just 30 minutes. It is a very rare and exciting sight indeed”, Javadekar said.

The union minister said the centre and state government would jointly work to promote infrastructure and ecotourism in the entire Amur Falcon roosting areas in Nagaland. This political support (from the central government) for the cause from the centre is vital for the future of this programme.

If planned and executed well, low-key ecotourism could help cement wildlife conservation in the area while addressing fishermen (ex-hunter) livelihoods.

Going one step further, seeing how the Amur Falcon has become synonymous with conservation in the state, a successful ecotourism strategy will greatly impact conservation initiatives in other community conservation areas across the Nagaland.

Sun rises over the Doyang reservoir. The area has immense potential as an ecotourism destination.

While it is still early, and anecdotal, the team is definitely seeing a trickle effect of stopping Amur Falcon hunting on overall birdlife. NWBCT members as well as other birdwatchers are seeing more birds while out on falcon counts, including birds never recorded before in the area. As the team had originally envisioned, could the Amur Falcon be the torchbearer for overall conservation in the state and the region?

One of our sponsors, suggested the use of a raptor count software called Dot Count to try and ‘count’ the number of falcons in the sky. The software is meant for far lesser number of ‘dots’ in the frame with few or no birds overlapping in the image. Amur Falcons coming into roost at dusk is far from ideal conditions prescribed by the software but nevertheless it counted 9060 birds (individual discrete specks) in one image. Obviously, this number is only indicative and on the conservative side. Attaching the screenshot of the software below.

Dot Count estimating 9060 birds in one flock coming into roost. Please note overlapping birds will be considered as one.

Amur Falcon Roost in Longleng

Prior to visiting Doyang, the NWBCT team visited Yaongyimchen village in Longleng District, North East of Doyang. The forests around this village are another significant stopover and roosting site for the falcons in the Northeast.

This village has been the centre of a quiet conservation revolution for several years.

Yaongyimchen Community Conservation Area

Since 2009, the residents of Yaongyimchen have been actively engaged in saving their forests, rivers and wildlife. In 2012, the Yaongyimchen Community Conservation Area (YCCA) was officially declared by the then Chief Secretary, Government of Nagaland, Mr. Alemtemshi Jamir.

The YCCA is now a beautiful protected landscape covering hundreds of hectares of forested areas of Akchang, Awakung, Mangkoyo, Nyangji, Oweü, including rivers and streams Düla, Düthet, Shiung, and Okyong.

It is only fitting that Amur Falcons roost in a picturesque forested valley along the Düla river right in the heart of this conservation area!

Amur Falcon roost in the heart of the YCCA.
The newly erected watch tower that overlooks the YCCA as well as the roosting areas of Amur Falcons

During the season, when we visited, 5–7 volunteers of the village were deputed for daily routine patrolling around the community conservation area. The community had constructed a watch tower near the roosting site as well, to provide a perfect vantage for visitors to view the falcons.

Kudos to the community and the small band of passionate conservationists who have, completely outside the limelight, protected this area in Longleng district making it a haven for falcons and other wildlife.

Tracking the Incredible Journey of the Amur Falcon

In November 2013, a joint mission to satellite tag Amur Falcons was initiated by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in collaboration with Nick Williams, Head of the Coordinating Unit of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia (Raptors MOU); Hungarian ornithologists Peter Fehervari, Szabolcs Solt, and Peter Palatitz; and the Nagaland State Forest Department.

Three falcons were satellite-tagged. One male was named Naga in short for Nagaland; one female was named Wokha after the name of the district which is globally important for its roost site; and a second female was named Pangti after the village located in Wokha district and in recognition of the efforts made by the people of Pangti to protect these falcons. The birds were fitted with the state-of-the-art 5 gram Solar-Powered PTT (Microwave Telemetry Inc.), like a backpack using a specially made teflon harness, and released in the morning of November 7.

Now into the third year, ‘Naga’ alone has an active chip, and will return to India for the third consecutive year, clocking more than 60,000 km — nothing short of incredible!

Closing Thoughts

As another season ends and the last of the falcons leave Nagaland for Africa, it is only pertinent to reflect that a state infamous for its indiscriminate and widespread hunting of wildlife now stands with its head held high for one of conservation’s greatest turnarounds. To sustain this will be a slow and involving process with the community.

Seeing how the Amur Falcon has become synonymous with conservation in the state in a short period, can this success and cheer spread and create conservation initiatives in other community conservation areas across the state?

More so as visitors to the area increase as a result of publicity around the phenomenon of this unique migration.

Thank you.

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