Akhuaipuina is the local family name of the raptor Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) so lovingly called by the natives of the blue mountain in Manipur’s western district bordering Assam.
By Salam Rajesh
The advance group of the long-distance flying raptors has arrived this season, true to their annual pilgrimage across the Asian continent and the vast Indian Ocean to enjoy the warmth of the South African landscape. With their arrival, Tamenglong is gearing up to accord a warm welcome inspite of the darkening of the skyscape with the flurry of the hundred thousand winged visitors from the Far East.
Akhuaipuina is the local family name of the raptor Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) so lovingly called by the natives of the blue mountain in Manipur’s western district bordering Assam. Once hunted in thousands for local consumption, the visiting raptors are now a protected species, with the local district administration issuing advance notices prohibiting the hunting, poaching and killing of the raptors for food or for fun.
The falcons come in their thousands to converge over the Tamenglong landscape for a little over a month to rest and feed on the termites before their onward journey across the Arabian Sea to reach North Africa and thence on to South Africa where they will again rest, feed, enjoy the sunshine before flying back to their breeding grounds in the Far East, a mighty journey back and forth covering almost an astounding 20,000 kilometers of trans-continental travel without visa!
The more astounding fact is their non-stop flight of around 4000 kilometers across the Arabian Sea from the Indian subcontinent to reach the northern parts of Africa, without rest and sleep – a herculean feat indeed. Satellite tracking indicated the falcons flying straight from Tamenglong over the Indian mainland and the Arabian Sea to reach Somalia in north-eastern Africa without breaking on their trans-continental flight, although a few stray birds falter on their flights to ‘visit’ few places in central India.
A quick look at the Google satellite view will reveal where the falcons congregate in their breeding grounds. The site locations in dots will flash in Siberia, eastern parts of Russia, Mongolia, and the northern and eastern parts of China. It is indeed a long way for the falcons to traverse in their onward winter flight to North East India and thereafter to East and South Africa over the vast water spread of the Arabian Sea. Quite a remarkable journey, indeed.
For the Rongmei and Liangmai Indigenous people in Tamenglong and Noney Districts, the falcons are the harbingers of plenty. The raptors devour the numerous termites which otherwise would attack the kitchen gardens and the agricultural farms, wasting the vegetable crops. The raptors ensure that the termites do not lay waste the hard work of the villagers, and so they are welcomed with open arms.
Every year in this past near a decade, Tamenglong celebrates the return of the Akhuaipuinas with enthusiasm. Awareness meetings are held, villagers congregate to discuss in detail on the values of conservation, songs and dances celebrate the flight of the Amurs, the town is lit with graffiti featuring the falcons, and all eyes are turned up to the sky fascinated by the busy activities of the hundred thousand falcons, swirling and sweeping up and down to catch the termites in flight.
At a rough calculation, it is estimated that around two hundred thousand of the raptors roost in Pangti area of Wokha District in Nagaland, which is globally known for the presence of the falcons and understandably termed as the ‘falcon capital of India’, with as many numbers of the raptors halting in Tamenglong, and Longmai, area of Manipur.
In Tamenglong, the district administration issued prohibitory orders on 6th October restricting the hunting/trapping/shooting of the falcons in Chiuluan, Khangchiuluan, Duigailong, Tamenglong Khunjao, Tamenglong town, Bamgaijang, Taijijang, Zeiladjand, Azuram, Thiulon, Vanchengphai, Akhui, Sangrungpang, Tabanglong, Keikao, Sempang, Duiluan, Matung, Puching, Phallong, Sonram, Dailong, Lenglong, Konphung, Dikiuram, Katang, Nheng, Ndai, Maruangpa, Namtiram, Namtiram-Part 2, Renglong and Guangram villages in the district.
Noney District administration in its notification of 13th October restricted harm to the falcons in Longmai, Raengkhung, Awangkhul, Taobam, Khongsang, Rengpang, Nungba, Kambiron, Khumji, Nagaching, Kabui Khullen, Puichi, Bakwa and Haochong villages in the district. Everyone with a licensed gun is asked to hand over their guns to the concerned village authorities during this ‘prohibitory period’ of October and November.
For around a decade now, Tamenglong natives have been fervently campaigning for the protection of the falcons during their short stay in Manipur, with the green group Rainforest Club Tamenglong (RCT) leading the tireless effort in creating mass awareness on the conservation value of the migratory birds in both local and global terms.
The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) under the broad platform of the United Nations had recognized the conservation efforts of the Nagaland and Manipur groups for the raptors. This was reflected in the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Conservation of Migratory Species held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat State during February 2020.
The State of India’s Birds (2020) is quite explicit on the long-term threats to birds in general and specifically to the migratory species. It quotes that ‘Rare species are increasingly threatened with extinction. Worldwide, the primary threats to birds are habitat change of which agricultural expansion and intensification, logging and increased urbanization, hunting, and linear infrastructures like highway expansion, railways and power lines are the major challenges’.
In recent times, the more pervasive threat comes from climate change impacts of which extreme weather events, rising temperatures and extreme colds, erratic rainfall, and cyclonic storms play their role in negatively impacting habitats and bird populations – not to speak of the extensive habitat destructions.
On this very note, this writer with a common share of concern with the Nagaland counterparts, did open up the dialogue on the trans-boundary conservation of the Amur Falcons for a more fruitful conservation effort, with perhaps a wider global connectivity of conservationists in East Asia, South Asia and Africa on a common agenda for the trans-boundary flying raptors, on long-term basis.
Birds are a link to the natural food chain, propagation of life and other benefits to ecosystems – the predators (eagles, hawks, falcons) control the infestation of pests, the scavengers (crows, vultures) remove waste and control the spread of diseases, while the pollinators (humming bird, sunbirds, bats) give life to fruiting plants and trees. It, therefore, is essential that humans respect the winged creatures, so much like Tamenglong accords warm welcome to the Akhuaipuinas with open arms and ensure their safe stay as honoured guests.
(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])