It took off from the dense tree cover like the\nraptor it is, craned its neck taking all in with a piercing gaze while the\ninvisible direction finder in its tiny head gave it the desired bearing. And\nthen with a lazy flap or two of its sleek wings, off it vanished into the blue\nyonder.Originating from Nagaland, the flight will take it\nall the way to east Africa over the Arabian Sea, a distance covering more than\n4,000 kms from the west Indian coastline. But that is just half the story. Meet\nthe Falco amurensis, Amur falcon to you and me.Amur falcons are slowly becoming the face of\nconservation in India, but not before paying a very heavy price for years.\nAn untold number of these birds would be killed every year as bush meat,\nparticularly in Nagaland, before a bunch of do-gooders decided to turn the\ntide.Saving the Amur FalconConservation efforts in full\nswing around the Doyang reservoir, associated with mass hunting of Amur falconFalcons after being killed\nwere being sold for around Rs 25 each; the collective effort regarding\nconservation started taking effect in 2012Conservationists relying on\nradio tagging technique to keep an eye on dwindling numbersConservation efforts finally\nbearing fruits as the site is thronged with birding tour operators and bird\nwatchers’ groups to observe the annual falcon congregationConservation Pays OffThe effort is bearing fruit and the falcons, which\nare considered wonders for the longest overwater flight they undertake each\nyear, are now almost safe in India. But that has taken some doing from\nconservationists, NGOs, different communities, the state and central governments\nand even the church. The hunters have now almost all turned protectors.Weighing around 200 gms each, the Amur falcons are\nsmall birds of prey. They breed in the region between southern Siberia,\nMongolia and northern China and winter in east and southern Africa. Their\nmigratory flight path from Central Asia to the African continent takes them\nover India with the Doyang reservoir in Wokha district of Nagaland being their\nfavourite roosting site where they start flocking in October and are almost all\ngone to Africa by November end.Mass HuntingThe mass hunting of Amur falcons around the Doyang\nreservoir is linked to the economy and livelihood of the region. Hunters,\nmostly fishermen, used to drape the trees along the reservoir with fishnets and\ntrap anything between 12,000 to 15,000 falcons a day. With a large number of\nhunter groups operating, the annual kill count shot well over the six-figure\nmark.Brought to market places, the falcons were then\nplucked, smoked and sold for around Rs 25 each. That was the practice till a\nfew years ago, but the collective effort to spread the message of conservation\nstarted taking effect in 2012.“The ownership in the community for falcon\nconservation has significantly gone up and is a self-contained initiative by\nnow with more and more participation of the locals. Most encouragingly, there\nis a trickle effect of the Amur falcon protection and conservation on overall\nbirdlife. As envisioned, the Amur falcon could become the torch bearer for\noverall conservation in days to come,” says Ramki Sreenivasan, a Bangalore-based\nwildlife photographer dedicated to the cause of conserving the falcons at\nground zero since the past few years.Radio-Tagged FalconsThere is tangible evidence that the Amur falcons\nare now almost safe in this country. To record their behavioural and ecological\npattern and their flight path, ornithologists had radio-tagged three falcons\nfrom the Doyang roost site on November 6, 2013, fitted them with a solar-powered\nelectronic device for tracking avian species and released them the following\nday on November 7.The birds, one male was named Naga and two females\nnamed Wokha and Pangti after the state of Nagaland, the district where they\nroost and the village that contributed hugely towards the falcons’ conservation,\nrespectively.Naga and Pangti returned to the Doyang roosting\nsite in Nagaland in 2014 after completing their return journey to\nMongolia/northern China from southern Africa, but the whereabouts of Wokha\nremains unknown. Conservationists presume she has either died or lost the radio\nchip.“Shoring everybody’s hopes about Amur falcon\nconservation, Naga and Pangti returned to the Doyang roosting site this season\ntoo. It is a huge pat on the back for all those who worked for the falcons’\nprotection, particularly the people of Nagaland,” Sreenivasan said.Tourist AttractionThe Amur falcons are now turning into an\nalternative source of economy in areas that were once their killing fields.\n“Tourism, centring round the spectacular Amur falcon congregation, is slowly\nemerging as a meaningful source of livelihood and the former hunters are now stakeholders.\nThe development would also contribute towards natural conservation, as is\ndesired,” the wildlife activist pointed out.Substantiating the claim, inquiries about tourism\nprospects at the Doyang site are pouring in. “Inquiries about homestay and\ncamping at the Amur falcon congregation site are coming from the UK, Australia\nand The Netherlands,” confirmed Asit Biswas of Help Tourism, a major tour\noperator.According to him, birding tour operators and bird\nwatchers’ groups from abroad and around the country are expressing interest to visit\nthe site to observe the stunning annual falcon congregation and contribute\ntowards the conservation success story as well.(The writer is a Siliguri-based journalist) We'll get through this! 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