Indian states ban guns and airguns to safeguard Amur falcons

<span>Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP</span>
Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

Officials in north-east India have banned the use of guns and airguns and confiscated catapults and nets in an effort to safeguard the small Amur falcons that make an autumn pit stop on their way to sunny South Africa.

Forest officers were patrolling areas of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur states to make sure no one disturbs the long-distance travelling raptors who stop briefly in India.

Their arrival is a spectacular sight, with huge flocks darkening the skies as they arrive and land on trees, fences, electric poles, bushes and homes. They return every year, tired after the long flight from their icy breeding grounds in Russia and China.

After a break lasting a few weeks in the north-east, they will head out again to fly non-stop across the Arabian Sea – eating insects while in flight – to reach the warmer climes of southern Africa, more than 10,000km away.

The moment they arrive, forest officials in the north-east step up measures to ensure they are left alone to recuperate, roost and feast on the termites they adore. Another favourite snack is the large population of grasshoppers that has fortuitously come up in recent years owing to the moisture created by the Doyang dam in Nagaland.

“During this stay, they have to build up their reserves of energy and fat for the marathon flight that lies ahead. They need a high protein diet and plenty of rest,” said the wildlife biologist and bird enthusiast Sumit Dookia.

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The precautions against guns and catapults are necessary because the falcon used to be aggressively hunted by locals. Huge fishing nets used to be stretched from trees across rivers to trap the birds or they were shot.

Thousands of the raptors were harvested every day for sale and consumption after being roasted or made into curries. In 2012, Conservation India, an NGO, estimated that 12,000 falcons were being killed every day during the peak of the migration.

But in the intervening years, villagers have been educated and made aware of the need to protect the birds and the numbers being killed have fallen substantially. The falcons have become a source of income because the villages they visit are popular as tourist sites.

One village, Pangti in Nagaland, has become famous as the “falcon capital of the world” for its large number of amurs.