This year, as in 2013, the migration of the Amur Falcons continues in full swing along the Doyang reservoir, Nagaland. There continues to be no killings reported so far! The government, the forest department, local NGOs and, not the least, the local communities have extended their conservation efforts for the second year running to ensure there are no trapping of the birds. This season, the local community demonstrated more ownership by creating the Amur Falcon Roosting Areas Union (AFRAU), which setup check posts and carried out patrolling during the migratory season. Earlier, the forest department along with the local community built a couple of watchtowers overlooking strategic parts of the Doyang reservior to offer great and uninterrupted views of the falcon congregations!
Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang who visited the area on Nov 9th said that the roosting area of the Amur Falcons had the potential to become one of the best tourist spots not only in Nagaland but also in the country. There has been initiatives to develop ecotourism in these villages to try and create a livelihood for erstwhile hunters. Several community members have created “homestays” to cater to the trickle of tourists, wildlife photographers and filmmakers who came visiting this season.
This year, while Nagaland has put a firm end to the mass killings, there are reports of hunting from Umrangso, Assam and Tamenglong, Manipur.
The Umrangso killings was reported last year and local NGOs have been working with the communities to stop the killings. The Manipur incidents was not known till this year. In both places efforts are underway with local NGOs, forest department and the army trying to control the hunting.
Like in the case of Nagaland, it is likely that these killings have been going on for years with hunters capitalising on these mass stopovers during migration. Since traditional hunting and bushmeat consumption is rampant in these areas, nobody would have assumed a few dead falcons in markets as indicative of a “mass slaughter”. Given the heightened awareness of Amur Falcons in the last couple of years, the local media is taking lead now. But it shows that the problem is serious as it is widespread across the Northeast.
An enormous effort is required at all roosting sites in the Northeast to stop the killings once and for all. It needs a lot of will and coordination between NGOs, local governments and the communities engaged in hunting.
The annual Amur Falcon migratory season is just round the corner. In less than a month we should start seeing the first of the falcons descend along the banks of the Doyang Reservoir. Conservation India will continue to report on the on-ground conservation programme that was fielded in 2012 after the killings were reported on these pages. Since then, the Amur Falcon has become the flagship of nature conservation in these areas.
The Nagaland Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust (NWBCT), one of the NGOs spearheading the conservation activity, will expand its education programme and community outreach through their Ecoclubs targeting school children. It plans to add two more clubs this season. One of those clubs will target adults — hunters, students, Church leaders and village council members. These two additional clubs will enhance the reach of spreading the message of conservation within the community with its own people at the forefront.
The passage migration of Amur Falcons through Nagaland is drawing to a close. The season lasted almost two months with the first birds arriving in early October. A big thank you and sincere congratulations to the Naga communities of Pangti, Sungro, Ashaa and Doyang villages who rose up to the occasion to provide safe passage to the falcons. Here is a delightful thank you message from Rohan Chakravarty!
Nagaland Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust (NWBCT) just finished a volunteer-driven survey across a dozen locations in Northeast India, recording their numbers, routes, and roosts, as well as hunting pressures. Conservation India will publish a report on this shortly.
Also, in a significant achievement, three Amur falcons were satellite tagged and released on Nov 6th 2013 in Pangti. The birds were named Naga, Wokha and Pangti. The three birds were fitted with satellite tags with antenna and solar panel weighing 5 gram on their back.
The tagged birds’ migration can be monitored from this website.
Male ‘Naga’ has Color Ring number KAM, Ring Number C56801; female ‘Wokha’ Color Ring Number KCM, Ring Number C56802 and another female ‘Pangti’ has Color Ring Number KFM, Ring Number C56803. All three birds have reached Africa. Click here to view their route.
The satellite tagging was an initiative of the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Convention on Migratory Species Office (CMS), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Nagaland forest department.
The migration of the Amur Falcons continues in full swing in Doyang, Nagaland, and there continues to be no killings reported so far!
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.
The enclosed picture shows the Chief Minister interacting with the ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’ ecoclub members in Doyang.
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.
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.
Campaign Details – November 2012
Shocking Amur Falcon Massacre in Nagaland
Ramki Sreenivasan and Shashank Dalvi
This is a documentation of the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migratory Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) in the remote state of Nagaland in India’s northeast. We estimate that during the peak migration 12,000 – 14,000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale everyday. We further estimate that a mind-boggling 120,000 to 140,000 birds are being slaughtered in Nagaland every year during their passage through the state.
This is probably the single largest congregation of Amur falcons recorded anywhere in the world and it is tragic that they meet such a fate. Our team has alerted all appropriate authorities in Nagaland. Government officials we spoke to have committed to put an end to the slaughter and have initiated specific action steps outlined below. Conservation India will continue to monitor and report on the situation.
It is significant to note that India, as a signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), is duty bound to prevent this massacre, provide safe passage, as well as draw up appropriate action plans for the long-term conservation of this bird. In the recently concluded Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), of which India is the president for the next two years, the importance of CMS in conserving species, and especially in stopping bushmeat hunting, was repeatedly stressed.
In October, huge numbers of Amur falcons arrive in northeast India from Siberia en route to their final destination — Somalia, Kenya and South Africa. This handsome little raptor has one of the longest migration routes of all birds, doing up to 22,000 km in a year. The birds are unusual in that they migrate a large distance over the sea and also continue their journey at night. In October this year, a group of us (Ramki Sreenivasan from Conservation India, Shashank Dalvi, Bano Haralu, Rokohebi Kuotsu) travelled to Doyang reservoir in Wokha district to check out information that thousands of falcons were being hunted annually on the banks of the Doyang reservoir during their passage through Wokha district, Nagaland. The trip confirmed our worst fears. Doyang is a rockfill dam and hydroelectric plant on the Doyang River, a tributary of Brahmaputra, 30 km from Wokha town in Nagaland run by the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO). On Oct 21, as we were reaching Doyang reservoir at 0830hrs, we found two women walking along the road openly with about 60 skinned birds that turned out to be amurs. This was our first encounter with the species. We saw the dead birds even before we saw the live ones.
Number of Amurs around Doyang
Almost immediately, we saw thousands of amurs on the transmission lines along the mountain ridge. They seemed to travel overnight and reach Doyang during the early hours. They seemed to use these wires for resting and hawking insects. Amurs are known to be wholly insectivorous (Irwin 1981). Here we estimated ~6000 Amur Falcons at 0840hrs. This count was only from the wires visible to us, and the wires stretched for hundreds of meters in each direction (see attached slideshow). The next morning (Oct 22), at 0630hrs we counted ~12,000 birds on the same wires and ~23,000 birds flying above the Doyang reservoir. Later at 0830hrs the birds were seen using transmission lines. The numbers dropped considerably and by 1230hrs, very few falcons were seen on the wires. Over the course of the day, we observed 12 hunters on the main road carrying between 60-200 birds per head totaling over a 1000 dead birds carried to their homes or local markets and even door-to-door selling.
1. Hunting process
The amurs spend the day on the transmission wires (almost entirely inaccessible to hunters) and descend to forested patches along the banks of the reservoir to roost (see map). The hunters ruthlessly exploit this particular behavior and set-up huge fishing nets (30-40m long, 10-12m tall) all over the roosting sites.
We accompanied one hunting group (of 4 hunters) to the other side of reservoir by rowboat where we saw several other hunting groups. Hunting groups consisted mainly of four hunters; some parties had two.
Birds get caught in the nets in large numbers. These birds get tangled in the nets while they come to roost during late evenings or when they leave the roost early in the morning. The nets were permanent and the hunters come every morning to remove the trapped birds. The nets were observed over the entire roosting area giving virtually no safe area for the birds. Branches and paths were cleared to set up the nets.
Each hunting group had set-up at least 10 nets. On an average, 18 birds (18.30, n=23) were caught per net; hence each group catches about 180 birds per day. This was confirmed with interviews with hunters. We were also informed that about 60-70 hunting groups operate every day. This means during the peak migration about 12,000 to 14,000 birds are caught everyday. This obviously results in a loss of very significant number of birds from population everyday. This year hunters started netting on 19th Oct (interview with hunter) and the netting will apparently continue till the end of migration. According to hunters the peak migration lasts 2-weeks (our group will confirm this over the course of the next week or two, plus will study it next year). Assuming just 10-days of peak migration through Doyang, this suggests a shocking 120,000- 140,000 birds removed from the population every year, and more if the migration lasts longer or if there are more hunting sites in the area (neighboring villages, districts, etc.). This number doesn’t include birds potentially killed using guns, catapults, etc. — a widespread and accepted practice amongst Nagas.
The captured birds are kept alive in mosquito nets or cane baskets near the nets so they can be exported alive to the customers and markets. From cane baskets, the birds are transferred to poles for ease of carrying into villages and towns. Birds eventually die in the process and these birds are de-feathered / plucked (like poultry) and smoked for sale (longer shelf life).
Each bird is sold for a price between Rs. 16-25 (always sold as number of birds for Rs. 100 ($ 1.9 / £ 1.2). This sale usually happens door-to-door in Pangti village (where most hunters are from) as well as nearby Doyang and Wokha towns. Hunters (and sellers) know that Amur killing is illegal and banned by the Deputy Commissioner (Wokha district) since 2010 vide an issued order (Order no: JUDL-13/DR/2008-09/ Dated, Wokha, the 16th Nov. 2010). We also came to know about a few Amurs on the sale in open markets in Dimapur, in the plains far away.
It is still a mystery where huge numbers of dead amurs go everyday, as the local villages cannot absorb such numbers for their consumption. One of the hunters told us that two pick-up trucks from Dimapur were to pick-up the birds from Pankgi village (we couldn’t confirm this and passed on the information to the District Commissioner and Superintendent of Police). It is critical to understand where the bulk of the birds go.
By the end of the day, with the stench of smoked amurs in our heads, the scale and the ruthlessness of the massacre numbed us.
Recommendations for Immediate Action
- The roosting place is localised (one specific bank of the reservoir) and can easily be sealed off by the authorities (Deputy Commissioner, Superintendent of Police, North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) and Forest Department).
- Gain an understanding of and seal trade of amur meat mainly in big towns like Dimapur, Kohima.
- Aggressively follow-up on the enforcement of the DC’s ban with Forest Department, Police, local communities and the Church.
- Create awareness of the ban and the legal consequences (fine) in all villages including Pangti, Wokha, Doyang and Sungro.
Progress after our complaints
- On the very same day as our verbal complaint (Oct 22nd), the dynamic Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Wokha district issued a fresh order against hunting of amur falcons (see new and earlier orders). This order was also carried in local newspapers. He also intimated the superintendent of police of Wokha about the killing and the potential trade in amur meat. He also alerted all community leaders in the area to enforce the ban. He set-up a meeting for our team member Bano Haralu to address the village leaders on 29th October 2012.
- The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Wokha district Mr. Supongtakshi Aier and a district administrator addressed approximately 50 village heads, council members and student bodies of Pangti, Sungro and Akhotso villages in Pangti (since most hunters are from Pangti, the village closest to the Doyang reservoir).
- The government officials categorically stated that any ongoing trapping and killing of birds after the DC order was a violation of the law and it would not be accepted. The respective village representatives were asked to inform their communities about the order and that violators would be fined. Village heads have agreed to inform their communities about the status of the Amur Falcons and to spread the message of being “guardians” to the birds rather than being “destroyers”. However, they expressed helplessness to put a total stop to the killing if some measures are not put in place to replace the “economy”generated by the killing of the birds during this season. The govt. has to address this on priority before the next season.
The Chief Wildlife Warden of Nagaland Mr. T. Lotha has issued instructions to his staff to seize all traps found in the area and has warned of stern action including arrests against offenders. Forest guards and personnel have been on duty since, and will remain till the end of the migration to monitor the situation. They have also begun to confiscate all live and dead birds caught by villagers. Live birds have been released and dead birds burnt. In some spots, nets put up by hunters have been removed.
- A more robust and proactive plan is being thought out to be effectively implemented next year in the month of September a month before the migration season.
- The issue has been brought to the notice of the Minister of Environment and Forests, Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan, following the meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) on Oct 31st, 2012 in New Delhi. The director of BNHS and member of NBWL, Dr A R Rahmani has written to the Hon’ble Minister to request the Chief Minister of Nagaland as well as the forest department of the state to immediately stop the massacre, and draw-up a long term conservation action plan for the species.
- India has repeatedly pointed out that migratory birds are killed on their way to India in other countries — the primary reason why the Siberian Crane is now locally extinct in India. This incident goes to show that bloody, seasonal hunting sprees targeting migratory species is happening in India too, and we have to take immediate action to stop this.
We will continue to update this page and send out emails to CI readers.
The marathon migrant
The Amur Falcon is a complete, long distance, trans-equatorial migrant (Bildstein 2006). It has one of the of longest migration routes of all birds — doing upto 22,000 km in a year — from eastern Asia all the way to Southern Africa and back. It also is unusual in migrating over sea and migrates during the night (Meyburg 2010). Migrating birds leave their Asian breeding range and travel to northeast India and Bangladesh, where they fatten up while staging for overland flights over peninsular India (Ali and Ripley 1984). Subsequently, they undertake the longest regular overwater passage of any raptor, crossing over the Indian Ocean between Western India and tropical East Africa, a journey of more than 4,000 km, which also includes nocturnal flight (Bildstein and Zalles 2005). This species is finely attuned to the strong monsoon tailwinds, which results in its late arrival in eastern Africa in autumn (Ash and Atkins 2009). Migrants arrive in their southern African winter range in November-December and depart by early May (Mendelsohn 1997). This species is an “elliptical migrant” (Kerlinger 1989), and its return route back to its breeding range is largely overland and to the north and west of its southbound route (Bildstein and Zalles op cit.). Useful articles:
- The amazing saga of this Amur Falcon.
- Amur Falcon migration route finally plotted.
- Amur falcon fact file.
Media coverage so far:
- The Guardian » How three Indian villages saved the Amur falcon
- LiveMint » The flight of the Amur Falcon
- Morung Express » Mokokchung DC cautions hunters
- Mongabay » India moves rapidly to protect Amur falcons from mass-hunting
- Morung Express » Forest department gearing up to protect Amur Falcons
- Eastern Mirror » CM lauds first Amur Falcon education initiative in State
- Morung Express » 'Friends of the Amur Falcon' campaign launched
- Nagaland Post » Villagers in Wokha pledge to protect amur falcons
- Mongabay » From catastrophic to the sustainable: the flight of the Amur Falcon
- SCIENCE » Exploitation in Northeast India
- Open » The Killing Fields of Falcons
- Rajya Sabha TV [Video] » Wide-scale killing of Migratory Amur Falcons in Nagaland is raising questions on India's commitment towards biodiversity.
- Daily News, Tanzania » Satellite-tracked amur falcon escapes massacre of 120,000 of her fellows
- National Geographic Daily News » Pictures: Falcon Massacre Uncovered in India
- Yahoo News » MoEF sounded on Amur falcon massacre in Nagaland
- Birdwatch » Quick action to save India's Amur Falcon
- Birdlife International » Help required to end hunting massacre in Nagaland, India
- TOI, Mumbai » BNHS supports the cause of conservation of Amur falcons
- The Star » Flight into a Killing Field
- Times of India, Pune » Protect Amur falcons, BNHS tells MoEF
- CNN-IBN Live [VIDEO] » Thousands of Amur falcon birds poached for trade, consumption in Nagaland
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds » Amur Falcon Slaughter....time to speak up!
- 'Campaign Cartoon' -- Green Humour! » Never Land in Nagaland!
- Hindustan Times » MoEF sounded on Amur falcon massacre in Nagaland
- Bird Ecology Study Group » Massacre of Amur Falcons in Nagaland
- National Geographic Explorers Journal » Migrating Amur Falcons Massacred in India: We Need A Global Solution
- Morung Express, Nagaland » Notification against trapping of migratory falcon birds
- Kolkata Birds » A Sad Encounter with Migratory Amur Falcons in Nagaland (2009)