Amur Falcon-Road Ahead
Pic Credits: Amarjeet Kaur

Guwahati: Though the Amur Falcon Conservation Initiative has helped in creating mass awareness and garnering the support of local Naga people, much remains to be known about the migration strategy of the bird and the climate change impact on it. 

The Wildlife Institute of India in its report “Understanding the Amur Falcon their stop-over sites in Nagaland and their migratory routes for better conservation planning” authored by R S Kumar and others also deliberates on the road ahead.

This study as part of the Amur Falcon Conservation Initiative as originally conceived helped create mass awareness and garner the support of local Naga people bringing about a change in their attitude towards hunting practices. This has led to a complete stop in hunting Amur Falcons at their stop-over sites during passage migration through Nagaland. This change is echoed today as a conservation success story, and Amur Falcons are now the flagship species for conservation in the region. This is also reflected in the fact that local communities at a few sites across Nagaland have on their own started to set aside community lands for not only Amur Falcon conservation but for all other biodiversities in the area. Given that Nagaland is predominantly governed by local communities as the land is community-owned, conservation actions are therefore influenced by local people.

“Now that local communities themselves are coming forward to protect wildlife or biodiversity of the area, initiatives like the Amur Falcon conservation project should continue to be taken up. This is further important so as to reach out to local people in the biodiversity-rich areas, specifically the remote mountainous parts of the State to spread conservation awareness” the report says. 

This study through the use of satellite telemetry has helped in our understanding of Amur Falcon migration, however many important facets of their migration strategy remain unknown. 

“The first such is about the Amur Falcon populations arriving in Northeast India, which we believe represent populations from different parts of their very wide breeding range. Since only a small number of Amur Falcons were satellite tracked as part of this study, the information generated from the same may not truly represent the population as a whole. Given this, it is important to continue satellite tagging of Amur Falcons over many years and across stop-over sites in Northeast India. The next important aspect of Amur Falcon migration that is unknown is the flight altitude that they use during their long-distance migration. This is also of specific interest, particularly the flight altitude during their non-stop oceanic crossings” the report says. 

The report says that future tracking efforts may consider the use of advance tracking technologies such as the ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) tracking system developed by the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, Germany. The transmitters are relatively much smaller and this satellite-based system is tracked from the International Space Station. More importantly, this system can communicate two-way, unlike the current technology where it is only one-way transmission. Additionally, this system includes sensors that record information on flight altitude, temperature, pressure and other environmental variables that is critical in our understanding of bird migration. 

It says given India’s commitment to understanding climate change impacts on natural ecosystems and the livelihoods of people, the MoEFCC has established the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA). A major objective of INCCA is to assess the drivers and implications of climate change through scientific research. In connection with this, it is suggested that migration studies of Amur Falcons be continued long-term since it is known that migratory birds respond to climate-related changes in the environment through shifts in their habitat use and movement strategies. 

“Amur Falcon is an ideal subject for this study, given they migrate long-distance and their movements specifically across the Indian Subcontinent very likely influenced by monsoonal winds. So, how or whether climatic variability influencing change in wind patterns over this region affects Amur Falcon migration is likely to further our understanding of climate change impacts” the report suggests. 

While the present study has generated very important baseline information on stopover sites in the Northeast region, securing the habitats however requires a more in-depth understanding of habitat characteristics that influence site selection by Amur Falcons. For this, an extensive field study across the northeast region focused on the identification of stopover sites and documenting their habitat characteristics is required. From this data, a more robust GIS-based modelling approach needs to be taken up. 

“Along with this, a detailed study on the variability of termite prey across these sites is essential. Whether the termite swarming events observed during Amur Falcon stop-over are cyclic, and whether or how this is influenced by climatic factors, particularly monsoonal rains. This is also important as during this study it was documented that the Amur Falcon population was a whole shift stop-over site. What factors influence the non-use of certain sites that were previously used to host large congregations of the falcons requires further investigation. All of the above is important for better conservation planning as Amur Falcon conservation is strictly not site-specific and requires a landscape scale approach” it says. 

“The increasing deforestation and predominant shifting cultivation practices in the region may likely influence the presence of termite species, and this in turn may influence the presence of Amur Falcons in the area. Future research therefore should focus on how or whether land use changes are affecting termite populations in the region. It will also be interesting to document how Amur Falcons act as biocontrol agents keeping a check on termite populations that are generally regarded as pests. Information on termite ecology including swarming behaviour is still poorly known and requires further research” the report says.

“However, the true success of the Amur Falcon Conservation Initiative is attributed to the “Naga Pride” – the fact that hunters can also become protectors. This initiative, as originally conceived has also helped in the understanding of the migration of Amur Falcons, their migratory routes, stop-over sites in Nagaland and adjoining areas, and elsewhere, and documentation of their prey at stop-over sites in Nagaland that is critical for conservation planning. The success of this initiative has led to similar steps being taken up in the neighbouring Tamenglong district of Manipur where again large populations of Amur Falcons’ stop-over at select sites” the study says.

Lastly, the Amur Falcon conservation success in Nagaland and adjoining areas has led to a sudden increase in visitor footfall of primarily nature enthusiasts and bird watchers from around the world to these remote hilly areas to witness the spectacle of a million congregating falcons. This has led to avenues for income generation for local people in the form of tourism however, this currently operates in an unorganised manner. 

“To bring in benefits of this tourism activity to the entire local community, research on a viable site-specific eco-tourism model is required. This is also necessary as investing in hard infrastructure in form of the establishment of permanent watch towers, lodges and other tourist amenities may not be viable in the long-term considering that Amur Falcons may shift stop-over sites” the report suggests. 

Also Read Nagaland churches vow to work for honourable political solution

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