Last week it was reported that four local hunters were detained by Tamenglong Forest Division officials and district police in one of the Amur roosting sites near Chuiluan village, while three airguns and 27 slain Amur Falcons were recovered from their possession.
By Salam Rajesh
The annual arrival of the long distance flying raptors Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) in Manipur for their winter migration is being received with mixed response even as reports are emerging of local villagers hunting the migratory birds on the sly, and with wildlife enthusiasts expressing a sense of distraught feeling on the apparent neglect on the part of the State towards protection of the winged winter visitors and conservation of their roosting sites.
Last week it was reported that four local hunters were detained by Tamenglong Forest Division officials and district police in one of the Amur roosting sites near Chuiluan village, while three airguns and 27 slain Amur Falcons were recovered from their possession. The incidence occurred amidst emerging reports of the raptors being poached and sold for their meat on the sly.
Amur Falcons are trans-continental flying raptors, leaving the extreme cold of winter in East China to cross the vast spread of Asia, up and above the Arabian Sea and thence reaching the warm plains of South Africa for their winter rest. Along their long and stressed journey, the raptors take a breather amongst the lush green of North East India during October and November every year, feeding on their favourite food – termites – that are abundantly found in the bamboo groves along the banks of the mighty Barak River.
Years back, the Amurs were recklessly hunted in thousands both in Nagaland and Manipur, two of the important roosting sites in the North East. It was the intervention of wildlife enthusiasts and concerned local groups that ultimately succeeded in halting the massacre of the winged visitors.
In Tamenglong District, the campaign picked up in 2015 with concerned locals forming the Rainforest Club Tamenglong (RCT) to engage in both wildlife and forest conservation. The campaign particularly focused on the protection of the migratory raptors and the conservation of their roosting sites. The campaign was supported by the Tamenglong Forest Division officials and the district administration with equal zeal.
Then came the break of two years of Covid-19 between 2020 and 2021. It was literally hoped that the fear of the deadly virus would keep off the humans from defiling the spirits of the forests, and help propagate the wildlife. But, it seemed the hardship of the coronavirus spell is now forcing locals to rely on the sale of the Amur meat to recover on their financial crisis as a result of the pandemic.
The half a decade of relentless campaign for the protection of the Amur Falcons seem to have taken a slight u-turn, as the recent arrest of the four hunters indicated. Amidst the worry, local volunteers are not happy with the lack of support from the State, in particular from the concerned department, towards the Amur conservation campaign.
Two leading representatives of the Rainforest Club Tamenglong, Nehemiah Panmei and Dr Chambo Gonmei, both Honorary Wildlife Wardens of the District, recently wrote to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Dr AK Joshi regarding the issue, stating that “There has been a serious lack of such efforts, co-ordination and initiatives from the department this year” particularly concerning the reports of random hunting of the falcons and the lack of funding to keep the campaign rolling.
Meanwhile, there has been a spate of notifications by the district administrations in Tamenglong, Senapati and Ukhrul Districts banning the hunting of the Amur Falcons during their winter stay in Manipur. The district administrations have also been urging the villages located in the roosting sites to either locked away the licensed guns or deposit them to the village authorities during this period.
Despite the shortfalls and the frustrating news of the Amurs being hunted for their meat on the sly, the volunteers of Rainforest Club Tamenglong are not letting down their guards. With the increased arrival of the falcons in their thousands, the RCT volunteers are stepping up their campaign holding awareness sessions in various schools and colleges located in the district, encouraging the youths to take pledge for the protection of the winged visitors.
At the country level, there are queries from different individuals and groups on the reported hunting of the raptors, expressing deep concern on the negative fallout of a people’s campaign that was hailed as largely successful towards protection of an important transboundary migratory bird species.
It may be noted that at the global level there currently is an emerging effort to work on a transboundary landscape conservation model for the Amur Falcons, covering its breeding grounds in East China, Mongolia and East Russia, and its feeding grounds in Myanmar, North East India, Central India, and Africa – a collaborative campaign that could well be of significance in the entire world concerning several nations working together to save, protect and conserve a long-distance flying migratory bird species.
The 13th Conference of the Parties on the Convention of Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat during early 2020 specifically highlighted the conservation of the Amur Falcons as a priority process of the CMS under the United Nations platform. The CMS executive secretary had also specifically spoken on the Amur conservation in North East India as significant of the initiative.
With national and international concerns pouring in for the Amur Falcons, local concerns are urging the Government of Manipur, and very particularly the State’s Forest Department, to step in urgently with appropriate funds and other supporting mechanism to boost the campaign for the long term protection of the Amur Falcons and conservation of their roosting sites.