Satellites to track Amur falcons - Nagaland goes global in conservation

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  • Published 2.11.13
Amur falcons at Doyang in Wokha district of Nagaland. Telegraph picture

Jorhat, Nov. 1: Nagaland is set to become global partners in conservation efforts of Amur falcons with the United Nations Environment Programme planning to satellite-track these migratory raptors which arrive at Doyang reservoir in Wokha district every winter.

“Apart from two leading scientists from Hungary who have experience of satellite tracking of falcons, United Nations officials and scientists from Wildlife Institute of India will arrive in Nagaland shortly to carry out the operation,” M. Lokeswara Rao, principal chief conservator of forests, Nagaland, told The Telegraph.

This would be the first time that satellite transmitters would be fitted to Amur falcons in the country. Amur falcons undertake one of the longest migratory flights of all birds, from eastern Asia all the way to Southern Africa (22,000km) and this marathon migration by these birds have ignited curiosity among scientists.

These birds have already been satellite-tagged in Mongolia and Southern Africa.

The initiative to fit satellite transmitters to these birds in India has been taken up jointly by United Nations Environment Programme (Convention on Migratory Species), Abu Dhabi, ministry of forests and environment, Wildlife Trust of India, Dehradun and Nagaland forest department.

Rao said satellite transmitters would be fitted on five Amur falcons during the operation, which would be carried out in a few days. “Nagaland would be on the world map as far as conservation of Amur falcons is concerned with this operation,” Rao said.

The “great migration” of the Amur falcon (Falco amurensis), it migrates from Mongolia (spend the summer) to South Africa (spend the winter) and back home (Mongolia) and its passage through India is most mysterious.

The falcons breed in northern China and southeastern Siberia and spend all summer there. It undertakes a migration from this region all the way to southern Africa where they spend the winter and then undertake the journey back home.

“No one is sure of its migration route, but studies (through satellite tracking) reveal that these birds migrate large distances across the sea between India and the east African coast. Migrating over the sea is unusual for raptors,” an official of the Wildlife Institute of India said.

Rao said these birds visit Nagaland between October and November every year, probably before winging across the Indian Ocean.

“These raptors spend their day in search of food and settle on the trees near Doyang reservoir at night. We need to prepare a conservation action plan for these birds and comprehensive understanding of their seasonal migration pattern. We hope that satellite tracking of these birds would allow us to know more about them, at least about their seasonal movements,” the top forest official of Nagaland said.

Nagaland had witnessed a largescale killing of these birds, which is listed in the IUCN red list till last year.

The species is protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Convention of Migratory Species of which India is a signatory.

The hunting of these birds in Wokha district of Nagaland was first documented last year by Conservation India, a Bangalore-based NGO, which stated in a report: “A mind-boggling 1,20,000 to 1,40,000 birds (Amur falcons) are slaughtered in Nagaland every year.”

The report said Doyang probably witnesses the single largest congregation of the birds in the world and it is tragic that they are killed. The report, published last year, triggered concern among wildlife enthusiasts across the country. The three villages in Nagaland have nearly 1,000 families, and most of these people are involved in the massacre of the birds.

The report has triggered nationwide concern forcing Nagaland government to take steps to prevent these killings. There has been no report of any such incident this season till now, with various initiatives taken by the forest department and NGOs.