Pangti, Wokha: Amur falcons, known as the world’s longest-traveling migratory birds, have already arrived in Nagaland. However, unlike the previous years, the arrival of the birds has been delayed and the numbers decreased even though it is the peak season.
Amur falcons arrive in the state starting October and spend around 45 days feasting on insects.
At Pangti, Thungchumo Shidio, president of Amur Falcon Roosting Area Union (AFRAU), told EastMojo that the number of Amur falcons roosting in the state has declined this year.
“We are expecting more falcons by the first week of November,” he said.
Shidio said the Amur falcons are annually roosted at a hill called Tzuza Eryu at Pangti. “But due to the changing season or other unknown reasons, the birds are spread all over the area this year,” he said.
Nagaland was declared the falcon capital of the world by an international team of ornithologists, and has found its rightful place on the global map for conservation due to the largest congregation of Amur falcons at Pangti village, one of the closest to the Doyang reservoir under Wokha district.
The village, which once hunted lakhs of Amur falcons, began protecting the birds as conservation efforts peaked at Pangti in 2013 with the local community joining in the conservation activities. Amur falcons are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and trapping, killing, and selling of Amur falcons is a criminal offense. The punishment for defaulters could lead to three years of imprisonment or a fine of Rs 25,000, or both, under Section 51 of the Act.
Recalling the past, Zimomo Shitiri, fisherman and a former hunter from Pangti, told EastMojo, “As fishermen, we used our fishing nets to trap the birds on a large scale and would hunt about 400 falcons per day. Initially, we sold 10 falcons for Rs 100 and then as the sale got better, we sold 4 for Rs 100.”
The locals then saw the hunting and selling of Amur falcons as an alternative form of generating income. Shitiri said that around 40 hunters were killing around 400 falcons a day and the commercial-scale hunting peaked during the season.
“During the peak season every year, we used to give up fishing nets and instead put the nets in the air to hunt the birds. The best time for hunting was after the falcons fed on termites for at least 10-15 days,” he recounted.
The 45-year-old fisherman said that with the intervention of the NGOs and the state government, there mass awareness was created on conservation that compelled the villagers to give up hunting the international migratory bird. He said the hunters were compensated with poultry as they gave up hunting.
“Although I’m no expert, but having observed the birds over the past decade, it seems like the number of Amur falcons roosting this year has dropped by 20%,” the fisherman added.
Lijon Ngullie, an educator from Nagaland Wildlife Biodiversity Trust, told EastMojo that the drought-like situation in Nagaland may be a contributing factor to the decline in the number of falcons as termites, which the falcons feed on, are not emerging as they did in the previous years.
Strengthening conservation: A struggle
R Jami, Pangti village council chairman, recalled that in 2015, a resolution was adopted by the village council, which prohibited the hunting of Amur falcons.
“For a long time, the villagers have been protecting the Amur falcons. Due to lack of awareness, people were hunting the birds, but after we realized the need to conserve, we adopted a resolution to protect the birds, imposing a fine of Rs 5,000. The public has been very cooperative,” he said.
“However, despite being the Amur falcon capital, there are no development activities in the area. The villagers are hurt. We keep cooperating with the government on protecting the falcons but we are often neglected,” the chairman said.
The village leader goes on to highlight the deplorable road condition of the village and lack of amenities which require the government’s support. As the locals expressed concern over the government’s negligence, they informed that several farming activities had been taking place around the roosting areas over the past few years as a sign of protest.
“At present, due to the government not doing anything, we see that plantation and cultivation of lands is happening in many areas around the roosting sites, which might have disturbed the falcons from roosting at its actual roosting place,” Shidio informed.
In the past 3-4 years, farmers have turned to various plantations such as areca, teak and pineapple near the roosting areas as the government is “not giving any assistance”. He said, “People are cultivating for survival. Conservation will not fill our stomach.”
Adding to this, Ngullie said that as the government failed to keep its commitment on bringing about good roads and other developmental activities to the village, the landowners around the roosting areas began the cultivation, which might have also diverted the roosting of falcons from its actual roosting site this year.
“When talking about conservation, the focus is on Pangti but when it is about development, it goes somewhere else,” he said.
The conservation will go on
Despite all odds, locals are committed to continue with the conservation activities. “There has been zero-killing of Amur falcons since 2013,” Shidio assured. A protection squad of 30-40 members are also recruited to prevent hunting.
According to Ngullie, eco-clubs have been formed and participants get trained by experts on the importance of biodiversity and conservation, even at school-level in the rural areas, also creating mass awareness about the need to protect the migratory birds.
Amur falcon sightings
To get a glimpse of Amur falcons, several tourists—local, domestic and international -have been visiting Pangti over the years. Yanshum Kithan, AFRAU general secretary said that ever since Pangti opened for tourists in October this year following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 150 tourists have come to Pangti to watch the Amur falcons.
He said the tourists are often advised to refrain from roaming around the roosting areas. Music systems and lights are also prohibited near the roosting sites, he informed.
Shlok Singh, a student from Delhi who was at Pangti, shared how stories about Amur falcons brought him to Nagaland. “I got to know about this place through my parents. We came here to see Amur falcons and get close with nature. I had a great camping experience and got a great view of sunrise and sunset,” he said.
The student highlighted the need to maintain roads in order to make it more accessible for the people.
Suman Choudhary, a banker from Kohima who made it to Pangti on a two-wheeler, said, “The whole of Nagaland is unexplored with unique natural beauty. We expected to see more falcons though.”
A team of medical doctors who were at Pangti also shared their experience with EastMojo. “We expected to see the Amur falcons. Likely due to climatic changes, we were not able to see the Amur falcons as much as we expected. But after seeing the landscape, we realised it is worth visiting,” said Dr Zubonthung Humtsoe, a local tourist.
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