GUWAHATI, July 2 - From being trapped and killed in their thousands in Wokha district of Nagaland till as recently as in 2012, the Amur falcon (Falco amurensis) has now found a secure roosting ground in the area, thanks to growing engagement of local communities in conservation.
Indeed, the vast Doyang hydroelectric reservoir and its surrounding areas have earned global acclaim as falcon country with the sleek grey raptors in their millions making a pit stop in Indian territory during their 15,000-mile migration from Amur region of Russia, China and Mongolia all the way to southern Africa.
“Over a hundred thousand falcons were trapped and killed in the district, mainly by locals residing in the villages of Pangti, Asha and Sungro located on the fringes of the Doyang reservoir. But a conservation partnership between Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), local village council members (VCMs), Amur Falcon Roosting Area Union (AFRAU), Nagaland Forest department and Stop Poaching Fund engineered a remarkable change,” a WTI official said.
A number of rapid action projects (RAPs) were initiated by WTI’s Wild Aid division, focused on improving the livelihoods of local communities and sensitising them towards the ecological and economic benefits of protecting Amur falcons. As a result, VCMs imposed stringent penalties against falcon hunting in the area and the local communities, long-time hunters of the migratory raptors, became their staunch protectors.
Now, as the Amur falcons swoop down to roost in Wokha every October, they find a far more hospitable environment. The Doyang reservoir is one of the safest places in India for the raptors and it has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“With zero hunting-induced mortality in the last three years, the Amur falcons, once destined for local cooking pots, are proclaimed the ‘Pride of Nagaland’. Pangti village, indeed, proudly declares itself the ‘Amur Falcon Capital’ of India,” the official said.
With the villages near Amur falcon roosting sites lacking tourist infrastructure, WTI recently took up the mantle of constructing an eco-tourism guest house.
Even so, in order to ensure the long-term conservation of Amur falcons, it was essential that the momentum established should not be allowed to flag. The WTI went back to the stakeholders concerned – AFRAU and VCMs of Asha, Pangti and Sungro – and set up a series of consultative meetings. Based on these discussions it was found that the Doyang reservoir and its fringe villages had begun to attract nature lovers from across the world (over 2,000 tourists according to one estimate) during the Amur falcon migration season from October to November, and for the Hornbill Festival in December.
“To address the lacuna of dearth of basic tourist infrastructure, we took up the mantle of constructing a guest house that could be used as an eco-tourism resource in the area. The VCMs provided land for the construction in Pangti, which is a nodal village. The building’s blueprint was finalised in consultation with the VCMs and an attempt was made to incorporate elements of the local Lotha architecture in the design,” the official said.
On June 25, WTI Manager & Project Lead Dilip Deori formally handed over the guest house keys to the Pangti VCM chairman Jenithung N Shitiri in the presence of gaonburhas (village headmen) from all three villages. A plaque was also unveiled by Shitiri and a prayer offered by Mangleo Ngullie, pastor of the Pangti Baptist Church. Officials of the Nagaland Forest department were also present.
“The people of Pangti have played a pivotal role in ensuring safe passage for the marathon migrants, the Amur falcons,” Zuthunglo Ezung, Divisional Forest Officer, Wokha, said.