Amur falcon migration killings could seriously reduce total population

The Amur falcon, Falco amurensis, is a fine-looking and characterful little raptor.  This raptor family is known for its yearly transcontinental migrations, covering about 14,000 miles.  Southern Africa is their wintering grounds.  As winter arrives in the northern hemisphere, they make their way to Southern Africa from south-east Siberia and northern China.  A long journey from their breeding grounds to survive the hostile cold of the northern hemisphere winter.  The Amur falcon, as with most other bird migrations, does not fly non-stop, they temporarily rest at staging posts along the way.  For the Amur falcon, one such staging post is Nagaland, north-east India.  But for many of the 2012 migrating Amur falcons heading to Southern Africa, this stage post was their last stop, ever.  Conservationists recently confirmed the tragic reason why a notable percentage of Amur falcons, do not reach their migration destination points.

Quarter million Amur falcons hunted during migration stopover

Conservation India reported that a total of at least 120,000 Amur falcons, migrating to Southern Africa and stopping over in India, was killed in one week.  The organisation estimates that the falcon killings can be as high as 14,000 per day.  The method of mass capturing the birds is quite distressing – hunters hook up large fishing nets in trees on the banks of the Doyang dam, effectively trapping the tired birds intending to branch overnight.  Hunters sell the falcon as ‘bush meat’ on local markets, selling for US$ 0.3 – 0.5 per bird.  Ornithologists tracking the Amur falcon’s migration between Southern Africa and Mongolia, became worried after realising that large numbers of falcons are not leaving India after what is supposed to be a short stopover.  And this is how, with the help of Conservation India, it was discovered that up to a quarter million of Amur falcons are hunted down during their annual migration through India.

Even though the Amur falcon is listed as “Least Concern” in terms of the IUCN conservation status, ornothologists believe that such massive killings of the falcon, will affect the species’ survival.

Convention on Migratory Species: India a signatory

UNEP’s intergovernmental Convention on Migratory Species aims to ensure the safety of migrating animals and birds, avoiding obstacles in the way of safe migration, and allowing the safe arrival of the migratory species.  Migratory species often need more careful conservation, along the entire migratory route.  India is a signatory of this treaty – the falcon killings in Nagaland are thus utter disregarding of the treaty.  In response to the recent discoveries, Conservation India has actively stepped up and has already taken action in the Amur falcon killing hotspots.  Furthermore, the organisation has developed a range of mitigation measures to be implemented.  The localised nature of the hunting spots (the banks of the Doyang) allows for effectively control to be implemented, effectively preventing the extensive killings.  Following the 2012 migration season discoveries and alarm from Conservation India, district officials published a media notice in the Morung Express, warning against the trapping, killing and selling of Amur falcons.

Meat demand uncertainty

The greatest cluster of Amur falcon hunters was found in the small village of Pangti.  But Pangti has a very small population and authorities remain baffled by the large number of falcons killed – these numbers cannot be consumed by the villagers.  Even with selling of birds in nearby Doyang and Wokha villages, the supply is thought to exceed the demand.   A case of overhunting for no apparent reason, or a case for hopeful income?

Call for action – how you can help

Conservationists and NGOs globally were quick to follow the discovery with media publicity.  This is one conservation concern that can be resolved and Conservation India is optimistic that 2012 will be the last year for Amur falcon killings in Nagaland.  What can you do?  Support Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife India) by donating to this fund to assist the organisation in preventing the Amur falcon slaughtering.  Spreading the news on the recent killings recorded, are equally pivotal.  Only in creating an awareness of these migratory species and working with the local authorities and communities, can this Amur falcon threat be eliminated.

Feel free to spread the word and share via any of the options below!

Photo credits: some rights reserved by Ian n. White, berniedup and ILRI via flickr

Source: BirdLife International; Conservation India and IOL SciTech

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