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Siberian falcons spared 'massacre' this year in Indian bird 'gulag'

By The Siberian Times reporter
30 October 2013

Major campaign saves tens of thousands of birds from 'decimation' as they migrate to Africa.

 Wildlife experts visited the Doyand reservoir 'to witness first-hand the massacre of Amur falcons on its banks'. Picture: Wildlife India

A shocking account of hunters using nets to trap the Amur falcons - a regular annual carnage - was highlighted in a leading Indian news outlet.

'I am standing at the scene of a massacre like no other. Last year, like every year since 2006, a tenth of all Amur falcons were killed here. That's an estimated 10,000 to 14,000 a day for the 10 days the birds spend in Nagaland, en route their winter migration from Russia to the southern part of Africa.All around me, on trees, on the power lines across the village, are the falcons,' wrote Ananda Banerjee in a deeply shocking dispatch for livemint.com

This year - thanks to the work of conservation groups and action by officials in India - almost all birds are able to fly on safely to southern Africa.

'This is the annual migration of the Amur falcons (falco amurensis) over the Doyang reservoir in the Wokha district of Nagaland. I may well be witnessing one of nature's great spectacles. The number of birds is staggering, and estimated at well over a million, although no one wants to put a number to it,' wrote the author.

While not endangered, the extent of the slaughter in Nagaland meant 'conservationists worry that a few more years of the literal decimation of the species' that it could be on the critical list. The article told how wildlife experts last year visited the Doyand reservoir 'to witness first-hand the massacre of Amur falcons on the banks of the Doyang reservoir'.

The Amur falcons - which take their name from a river and region in the Far East of Russia - were slaughtered 'for food and sale as food. Hunters set up nets on the roosting sites of the falcons on the banks of the reservoir. The birds are trapped either as they come in to roost in the evenings, or leave the roost at dawn. The catch is removed every morning and transferred to mosquito nets or cane baskets so that the birds are alive (live birds fetch more).'

Doyang reservoir Nagaland India

 Wildlife experts visited the Doyand reservoir 'to witness first-hand the massacre of Amur falcons on its banks'. Picture: Wildlife India

The falcon - a small raptor - breeds in south-eastern Siberia and northern China, wintering in southern Africa. Its diet is insects such as termites. 

'The species undertakes one of the most notable migrations of any bird of prey, departing their breeding grounds in late August and September, moving south through China, skirting the eastern edge of the Himalaya to reach north-east India and Bangladesh, where they settle temporarily to fatten before embarking through the Indian subcontinent and across the Indian Ocean to southern Africa. The unique non-stop journey of 3,000km across the Indian Ocean typically takes place in late November and December, aided by the prevailing easterly winds', states a paper by Andrew Dixon, Batbayar Nyambayar, and Purev-Ochir Gankhuya.

Warnings had been issued that the killing could impact on the delicate agricultural balance in Southern Africa where the falcons reduce the threat of African bollworm, a pest of sorghum.

'Any significant reduction in falcon numbers may have severe consequences on a sub-continental scale, potentially affecting millions of commercial and emerging farmers', warn scientists Henk Bouwman, Craig Symes and Hannalene du Plessis in the 29 November 2012 online edition of Ornithological Observations. The ruthless hunting 'may have consequences in its breeding and non-breeding areas. Large reductions in Amur Falcon numbers are therefore likely to have far reaching impacts on agriculture and the environment'.

The livemint story warned: 'In Nagaland, though, the bird is largely known as a source of food-and money'. Villager Zimomo Lotha, 35, said he could earn up to $650 from falcons in their ten day stopover in Nagaland, with as many as 1,000 birds a day being trapped by locals in his village of Pangti.

Amur falcon

 The falcon - a small raptor - breeds in south-eastern Siberia and northern China, wintering in southern Africa. Picture: Wildlife India

The article revealed good news for the falcon. 'This year, thanks to the effort of the Nagaland government, NWBCT (Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust), and a few other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and another independent initiative of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), the massacre has been stopped, although several issues remain unresolved.'

With other groups a campaign was launched which appears to have been successful - called 'Friends of the Amur Falcon-Under the Canopy'.

'The state government is committed to end the unfortunate killings of the migratory Amur falcons and fully support the efforts of NWBCT and other NGOs to educate the people about these migratory birds and to give them a safe passage through Nagaland,' according to a statement from chief minister Neiphiu Rio.

'The Amur falcons are beautiful migratory birds, which visit Nagaland every year in thousands, in their long migratory journey from Siberia en route to South Africa covering 22,000km in a year. It is our duty to protect these wonderful birds while they are passing through Nagaland and treat them as our honoured and esteemed guests, in true Naga tradition of hospitality,' said Rio.

Grants were paid to villages if they desisted from the annual hunt. There are arguments over who has received this money, but for this year the cull so far has been avoided. 

Campaign against Amur falcon slaughter in India

Villager Zimomo Lotha, 35, said he could earn up to $650 from falcons in their ten day stopover in Nagaland, with as many as 1,000 birds a day being trapped by locals in his village of Pangti. Picture: Morunexpress.com

When the birds began arriving in the second week of October a 'high alert was sounded by the Nagaland Forest Department to Village Councils, Gaon Burahs and NGOs to protect the migratory bird Amur Falcons', reported United News of India. In another report dated 29 October, UNI stated: 'The citizens of Niuland area have taken a pledge to save migratory bird Amur Falcon and support the authorities in enforcing ban on their killing as the visitors have been sighted in Nihokhu and its surrounding areas under Niuland. 

'Under the initiative of Niuland Area Citizens' Forum (NACF) and support of Forest Department Niuland, a campaign to save Amur Falcon was organized at the Niuland town traffic point. Business establishments were closed while the programme was in progress, even as large numbers of school students came out to show their support to the initiative taken by NACF.

'Niuland frontal organizations such as Gaon Burhas (GB) Association Niuland Area, Sumi Totimi Hoho Niuland Area, Niuland Area Sports Association and Niuland Area Students' Union also participated in the campaign. Head GB Niuland, Vikiye, declared that killing Amur Falcon in the area has been banned and that violators would be inviting punishment under appropriate laws.

'Village authorities and leaders have been tasked to enforce the ban. Forest Ranger Niuland, Kughaho Achumi, sensitized the gathering on why the migratory bird should be saved from massacre. Head Dobashi, Nongrumba, spoke on behalf of Niuland administration. NACF president Kakishe Shikhu administered the campaign pledge to save Amur Falcon to the public'.

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