How a village in India became a global model for biodiversity conservation
The Indian state of Nagaland, which fell into disrepute for the Amur falcon massacres, has become the conservation capital of the migratory bird of the world.
Bano Haralu sadly remembers the days when his condition made the headlines For all the wrong reasons. Bano, a veteran journalist and conservationist, lives in the northeastern state of Nagaland, India, an area known for its natural beauty and idyllic mountains.
“It was really painful to read the news of the migrants love hawks (Falco amurensis) being brutally slaughtered in our state. It was in 2012 and in almost all the media there were news of some 12000-14000 birds captured and slaughtered every day during their annual roost in Nagaland. It brought our state, which is known for its hospitality to guests, into disrepute and left us shocked and bitter.
A long migration
Amur Falcons arrive in Nagaland between october and december every year. Birds stop here briefly for their annual rest before continuing their migration from From Siberia to Southern Africa. The hawks cover 22,000 staggering kilometers each year, earning the distinction of being one of the longest migrating birds in the world.
These birds spend the summer in their breeding grounds of southeastern Russia and northeastern China before setting out on their journeys, briefly roosting in Nagaland and then crossing the Arabian Sea to overwinter. in southern Africa. Amur falcons feed primarily on termites and other insects, an insectivorous diet that sustains them on the long journey. Their wintering coincides with the time when the seasonal rains ensure the presence of swarms of insects, South Africa a perfect feeding ground.
Hunted for sale and consumption
“The birds roost on a hill called Tzuza Eryu, in the village of Pangi, located in Wokha district, about 80 kilometers from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. The locals used to trap the falcons using nets before shooting them. The killings brought in lucrative revenue, both through meat sales in the local market and for personal consumption,” says Bano, who is also the managing director of the Nagaland Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust, a non-profit organization that focuses on wildlife conservation education.
“The killings also took place before 2012, but the administration took no action to stop them. The global outrage in 2012 shook the entire state, government included, and finally Nagaland woke up from its deep stupor. Even the locals felt a sense of humiliation for attracting global attention in such a negative way. Bano says the state government, along with locals and environmental enthusiasts, decided to rebuild the image of the state, which had been badly hit by the massacres. However, this was easier said than done as many locals were implicated in the murders due to the income they brought.
The Eco-Clubs: a great success
Non-profit organizations and environmental activists realized that the main reason villagers were ruthlessly killing these birds was a lack of awareness. Therefore, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), a wildlife research organization working alongside the Bano Conservation Trust, established eco-clubs in Pangti village in 2013 to educate local youth – especially children – about the importance of bird conservation.
Lijon Ngullie, 37, a resident of Pangti and one of the eco-club teachers, says it was difficult for them to restore the village’s crushed image. “We decided to educate children because they serve as an emotional link with their parents: it often becomes difficult for family members to escape their honest and innocent advice. The children, mostly between the ages of 12 and 16, received books on the importance of protecting falcons and preserving the environment. They were taught to draw different types of wildlife, observe the wildlife around them, and learn their names,” says Lijon.
“The children were also told about the Amur falcon, learning about its extremely long journey to reach our village and the mistreatment we inflicted on them. It made them very emotional. They returned home and sensitized their parents against the killings.
Eco-Clubs have played a major role in change point of view local populations towards birds and their conservation. Currently, the clubs operate in 3 villages including Pangti and 36 children study there, with classes held once a week. The state government also played a major role, with the Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio making a surprise visit to the area in November 2013 and calling on all locals to “extend hospitality” to their “esteemed guests”.
No murders in 2013
The result of all this work became evident in 2013, with no murders reported during that fall. It was perhaps one of the most successful examples conservation through education, with the mass culling of falcons having been stopped within a year. “It was possible because the locals were appalled by the global anger and really wanted to do something to create a better image of the state. Awareness campaigns played a major role in changing the mentality from hunters to protectors Says Lipenthung Jami, 48, a Pangti resident who worked on the awareness campaign.Nagaland has been welcoming its annual guests with open arms ever since.
“We are now watching the birds in the Mokukchung, Mon and Longleng districts of the state, which means that hawks flock here in greater numbers. There have been sightings even in neighboring states, like Meghalaya, which leads us to believe that their number is increasing. However, the absence of a census makes it difficult to draw conclusions on exact population trends. The conservation effort has helped us boost tourism and now the villages attract tourists from within and out of state. Amur Falcons have now become a more sustainable source of income for villagers.
Clitus Angamis, 35, an environmental enthusiast who lives in Kohima, is thrilled to have witnessed this successful conservation story. “I think it’s one of most successful stories conservation around the world. The eagerness of locals to shed their negative image has led to amazing results. This clearly shows that we can only conserve our environment if we are serious about protecting it. The world should learn from us and try to protect species that are on the verge of extinction.
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