29 Nov 2013

Action for Amur Falcons brings hope for an end to hunting in Nagaland

This year, Amur Falcons have been granted safe passage through north-east India , thanks to government, local people and conservation organisations. Photo: Tom Lindroos
By Jim Lawrence

Last year’s news of the massacre of Amur Falcons in India shocked the world. BirdLife’s Indian Partner BNHS moved immediately to mobilise a response. The trapping was stopped, nets destroyed and arrests made, although not before terrible damage had been done.

This year, the generous response to our international appeal has enabled BNHS, with the support of the BirdLife Partnership, to organise a comprehensive programme to keep the falcons safe around the Doyang reservoir, where they roost during their stopover. The programme has mainly been implemented by a local NGO, Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust, working with the Nagaland Forest Department.

As a result, not a single Amur Falcon was trapped during the 2013 autumn migration. Attitudes have changed so much in the space of a single year that the Amur Falcons are now treated, in the words of Nagaland’s Chief Minister, as “esteemed guests”.

A year ago we brought you the shocking news of a hunting massacre taking place in Nagaland, India, which BNHS (BirdLife in India) had been alerted to by colleagues from the campaigning NGO - Conservation India.

Tens of thousands of migrating Amur Falcons Falco amurensis were being illegally trapped on the roost at a reservoir at Doyang and then being taken to local markets alive, or killed and smoked, for sale as food.

Hunter with illegally captured Amur Falcons (Ramki Sreenivasan)

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Online news articles and a graphic video of the atrocity were quick to spread via social media. Many individuals from around the world responded generously to the international appeal we launched.

We are delighted to report today that this appeal has been an outstanding success.

Robust conservation has been put in place with the funds raised and actions taken to ensure the prevention of illegal hunting of Amur Falcons this year have been completely successful.  An innovative long-term community outreach campaign has also been initiated that has been received very well locally.

This year, the hundreds of thousands of Amur Falcons that visited Doyang reservoir were able to do so in peace. They have now passed safely through Northern India and continued their migration on to Southern Africa.

The BirdLife International Partnership would like to thank all who joined forces to make this happen!
“From an estimated 100,000 falcons killed last year, none have been trapped in nets this year. The transformation is extraordinary and the change has come very quickly. But we also have to guard against this rapid change getting reversed. We needed to also set up solutions which are sustainable and of practical use to the community,” said Dr Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS. "I would like to thank Nagaland Forest Department, the people of Nagaland, the Government of India, BirdLife International and all the NGOs working on this issue for this conservation success"
Amur Falcons gather safely over their roost at <br>Doyang Reservoir (Ramki Sreenivasan)

Last year BNHS took action from the outset and many other BirdLife Partners quickly showed their support by lending their authority to our international campaign too.

Following a call from Dr. Rahmani, Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan - the Indian Minister for Environment & Forests - personally intervened and the Indian Forest Department and District Administration were also swift to act.  The result was that nets were destroyed, captured birds were released, the sale of falcons was stopped and arrests were made.

The key next step was to put plans in place to ensure the atrocity would not be repeated again this year.

Preparation for the return of the Amur Falcons to Nagaland this autumn has been comprehensive. Supported by our appeal, BNHS has coordinated a widespread campaign of action that has been primarily implemented locally by Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust. Others supporting the campaign include WCS India, Raptor Research and Conservation Foundation and WildLife Conservation Trust.

Specific actions taken this year, enabled by BirdLife’s appeal, have included the employment of staff to patrol the Doyang area and to act as ambassadors within the local community. The local Government Forest Department has also been patrolling the roost areas. 

As a result of the advocacy campaign, The Deputy Commissioner of the Wokha Police committed his forces to respond as needed and enforce the law rapidly when necessary. Local government also issued a timely anti-hunting order.

The spectacular site at Doyang Reservoir is now recognised as a stopover for up to a million Amur Falcons each year and will soon be declared an Important Bird Area.

Long-term community action plans have also been established in Nagaland through the church, schools and other local groups.

An innovative PR campaign “Friends of the Amur Falcon” was developed to galvanise community action throughout the region supported by a comprehensive set of eye-catching promotional and educational materials.

As part of the initiative, locals from Doyang, Pangti, Asha and Sungro villages in Nagaland were employed to start eco-clubs and target students with a powerful conservation message. Dr Rahmani (BNHS) leading an eco-club meeting<br> at Sungro (Neha Sinha)

The local outreach activities began in August with a ‘train the trainer’ programme for teachers and church leaders and the eco-club programme for children soon followed. The community received this activity enthusiastically with more than 70 children enrolling and actively participating.

“When we were starting out, we were told this was a very difficult part of the world to work in. There had been virtually no history of conservation action in the areas we worked in.  But we found that in the students we have real hope for creating conservation ambassadors. Some of them have never been exposed to Nagaland and India’s magnificent natural history. They are genuinely impressed with it and here is a long-term hope for change,” says Neha Sinha, Advocacy and Policy officer, BNHS.

One particular component of the eco-clubs that caught the children’s imagination and proved very popular was the issuing of an ‘Amur Ambassador’ Passport.  Each child received this as evidence of their personal commitment to protect Amur Falcons in their community. 

The ‘Amur Ambassador’ Passport.Additionally to their outreach in Nagaland, BNHS has extended its advocacy to several villages in nearby Assam, which they discovered had also seen some hunting of Amur Falcons. These villages include Habang, which is next to Habang IBA—chosen for another congregation of Amur Falcons, as well as the nearby Umro village, on the Assam-Meghalaya border.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio lent his weight to the campaign when he made a surprise visit to Doyang reservoir this November. As well as witnessing the spectacle of the migrating Amur Falcons first hand, he met students and members of the eco clubs there. Minister Neiphiu Rio meeting children from <br>the eco-clubs at Doyang Reservoir.(Ramki Sreenivasan)

“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,” he said during his visit. 

Prior to his visit to Doyang, the Chief Minister had asked Nagas to “extend hospitality” towards their ‘esteemed guests’- the Amur Falcons – via a prominent poster campaign displayed on billboards throughout the state.

The outreach activities coordinated by BNHS this year will be continued in 2014 with the hope that a gradual change can be brought about in the region and help all in the community there live in greater harmony with their environment.