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100,000 migrating Amur Falcons pass through Nagaland every year. Even as the world grapples with COVID-19, two villages in India are holding strongly to their commitment to protect the birds and nature around them.

By BirdLife International

Villagers from Pangti in the state of Nagaland used to be hunters, trapping migratory Amur Falcons Falco amurensis by the thousands each day. These falcons stop over in Nagaland in October and November, to rest and stock up on food during their migration from China or Siberia to Southern Africa. At Doyang Reservoir – an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area next to Pangti village – the annual Amur Falcon gathering swells to over 100,000 birds and is considered the world’s largest congregation of the species.

BNHS (BirdLife in India) has been working in the area since 2013 to promote community conservation of the falcons. It started with focus group meetings to identify problems faced by villagers, and solutions that would allow villagers to benefit from the falcons without hunting them. Eco-clubs employed villagers as staff and educated hundreds of children. At the same, we worked with the state forest department to raise the profile of falcon conservation and help set up ecotourism to provide incomes, with visitors staying in local family’s homes. We also worked hard to communicate the infrastructure problems faced by villagers to the government, such as road quality, storage for fish catch, and receipt of funding for ecotourism.

While the village is now known internationally for welcoming falcons, Pangti’s issues are still mired in a loss of livelihood and lack of infrastructure. This year, the villagers prohibited tourism to the falcon roosting sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This has led to a loss of income. Last year too, they were unable to take in tourists due to lack of repairs on the road to their village. In a turn of unfortunate events stemming from local politics, upgradation funds meant for the “Amur Falcon roosting site” were sent to another village which does not receive falcons.

“We have requested the government to change the nomenclature referring to the other village, as Pangti is the Amur falcon roosting site. We have also requested for our road to be repaired. Though the going is tough and we have lost tourism income this year, we will continue to conserve Amur Falcons,” says Jenithung Shitiri, Pangti village council chairman. Shitiri and the village council’s commitment is inspiring, and BNHS and BirdLife will continue to support their efforts.

An ecotourism trip to Mangalajodi wetlands during better times © Neerakiran

Across the country in the Eastern state of Odisha, similar community resolve is saving thousands of wild migratory birds. Mangalajodi wetland lies in one corner of Chilika, India’s largest lagoon. The area used to witness regular poaching by villagers. Wild Orissa, one of the most active members of the BNHS-led Indian Bird Conservation Network, worked for years to convert these poachers to bird protectors.

“We started surveying the area in 1996. Between ’96 and ’99, we conducted extensive interactions with Mangalajodi inhabitants to understand patterns of poaching. By 2000, along with the forest department, we managed to convince the poachers to stop their illegal activities. From 2003 fledgling steps were taken towards ecotourism,” says Monalisa Bhujabal, Secretary of Wild Orissa. Today, Mangalajodi is one of the most sought-after bird destinations in India.

Thanks to their admirable commitment, the villagers of Mangalajodi and Pangti are part of the reason why hundreds of thousands of international birds can fly free today.