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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Mass Killing Of The Amur Falcon (Falco Amurensis)

In October 2012, Conservation India documented the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migrating Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) in the remote state of Nagaland in north-eastern India. Shashank Dalvi and Ramki Sreenivasan estimate that between 120,000 and 140,000 Amur falcons are being slaughtered every year in NE India, which sees the largest congregations of these falcons along their vast migration route from Siberia through the Himalayas and all the way down to Somalia, Kenya and South Africa. They cover over 22,000 kilometers every year and undertake the largest sea crossing of any raptor when crossing the Indian Ocean to Africa – including several nights of flying in the dark. India is a signatory to the Convention of Migratory Species and thus have a duty under international law to ensure this killing is halted immediately. Conservation India has received undertakings from the Indian government to end all further trade in Amur falcons through better enforcement, but nothing seems to be happening… India is actually the President of the Convention on Biological Diversity for the next two years, yet blatantly ignore the importance of biodiversity conservation and halting the bushmeat trade to this international convention. The Indian government needs to make people and resource available to support the transition of these Amur falcon trappers to alternative livelihoods before it is too late. It is clear that the people of Nagaland urgently need better access to education and rural development programs that support sustainable livelihoods alongside biodiversity conservation in this beautiful region. I hope that the whole world will be watching what the Indian government does next year to stop this slaughter. Migratory species like Amur falcons drive home that we are a global community that needs global solutions to poverty, hunger, climate, and biodiversity conservation…

Andrew Keys

The amazing Amur Falcons undertake the longest regular overwater passage of any raptor, crossing over the Indian Ocean between W India and tropical E Africa - a journey of more than 4,000 km that also includes nocturnal flight. (Andrew Keys)

Andrew Keys

Amur falcons are small raptor that breed in SE Siberia and N China migrating over 22,000 kilometers every year to winter in S and E Africa. (Andrew Keys)

The local people filmed by Conservation India catching Amur falcons, breaking their wings, sorting them, smoking them, and trading in them, cannot possibly enjoy this annual activity and do this purely for money and trade goods. They may look forward to the arrival of the falcons, but only because of the commercial and subsistence opportunities. Most of the local community most likely celebrate the arrival of the falcons as a wonder of nature and simply marvel at it. This is not just happening in India. It has happening all over the world. It has happened before and caused extinctions… Remember the passenger pigeon of the United States? Right now, hundreds of thousands of African green pigeons in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are being caught in nets, skewered, and smoked in a similar fashion… They will go locally extinct if we do not stop this unsustainable trade…

See: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/08/29/will-the-congos-green-pigeons-go-the-way-of-the-passenger-pigeon/

People in the DRC have even resorted to eating bonobos, our closest extant relatives on earth….?!

See: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/10/14/why-are-we-eating-bonobos-can-we-save-africas-vast-wildernesses-from-destruction/

When everything is stripped away by poverty and hunger, life becomes very simple and breaking the wings of a falcon or a pigeon and keeping it alive to preserve the meat before smoking would make perfect sense. We will never halt the devastating impacts of the bushmeat and international wildlife trade until we address the striking inequalities in our global community, at village level, regional level, national level, and in the international community. To put yourself in place of the people involved in the Amur falcon trade please read how Dalvi and Sreenivasan describe the unethical process undertaken by trappers:

“The captured birds are kept alive in mosquito nets or cane baskets… so they can be exported alive to the customers and markets. From cane baskets, the birds are “transferred” to poles (long sharp skewers) for ease of carrying into villages and towns. Birds eventually die in the process and (these birds) are de-feathered, plucked and smoked for sale. (Smoking supports a) longer shelf life.”

Amur falcons are absolutely stunning in the wild and sought after by birders and wildlife photographers. To these people their value cannot be measured in Dollars or Pounds, but to the people of Nagaland they have a monetary value, as Dalvi and Sreenivasan explain:

“Each bird (Amur falcon) is sold for Rs16-25 in number of birds for Rs100 (=$1.90 or £1.20). This sale usually happens door-to-door.”

Unsustainable local consumption like in the DRC with the green pigeons, the extinct passenger pigeon in the United States, and this mass 2-week killing of over 100,000 Amur falcons are all caused by social and economic instability and inequality in the face of rapid development and exploitation of natural resources. Areas too unstable, remote or inaccessible to develop are simply ignored and local growing communities are left to support themselves with what they have… the land. Climate change and global financial systems make this difficult and many communities resort to destroying the natural heritage for food and warmth. Forcing people with ancestral heritage rights of land tenure to exterminate local wildlife and degrade the landscape is something we all need to take responsibility for, instead of sitting in judgement of the people filmed, their government, our government, those people, them, the “traders”… We watch them as they coldly and without emotion breaking wings, piling them up like dead carcasses, and skewering them for smoking, and judge them in the knowledge that we would not do the same in their circumstance… The suffering of the Amur falcons is immense and their only reward is death. For the Nagaland trappers there is little reward for destroying these birds and must only see this as a means to an end. We need a global solution for this situation.

Andrew Keys

Amur falcons arrive in their S African winter range in November or December and depart by early May, dispersing to feed mainly of insects, such as termites. (Andrew Keys)

Mark Drysdale

During the peak Amur falcon migration 12,000–14,000 falcons are hunted for local consumption and commercial sale everyday. This beautiful Amur falcon was photographed safe in South Africa. (Mark Drysdale)

Mark Drysdale

Amur Falcons are generally silent and only make high-pitched "kew-kew-kew" sounds when at communal roosts or when stressed like in the video. (Mark Drysdale)

According to Conservation India, the Indian government has repeatedly pointed out that migratory birds are being killed on their way to India, resulting, for example, in the Siberian Crane now being locally extinct in India. The hypocrisy of statements like this is clear, but the Indian government are not alone in this seemingly natural human behavioral trait of passing on blame and ignoring glaring problems until it is far too late. One day no Amur falcons will make it to South Africa and the South Africans will blame India. The Indian government already blames Russia for the disappearance of Siberian Cranes from India. The Congo forests may one day have no more green pigeons. Who do they have to blame? There must be someone? South Africa laments Vietnam and China for their role in the deaths of hundreds of rhino every year. Over the last 30 years, since rhinos almost went extinct due to poaching, South Africa has become a global hub for the wild-caught bird trade with traders and importers taking advantage of an advanced avicultural industry in a country with under-resourced enforcement and poorly trained permit officers.

See: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/12/27/mystery-death-of-687-wild-grey-parrots-on-1-hour-flight-to-durban-revisited/

The world is a much smaller place in the 21st century and we need to take responsibility for all threats to our global ecosystem like this unacceptable and unnatural massacre of hundreds of thousands of Amur falcons. We need to act as a global community of Earth citizens…

Posted on 11/28/2012 8:49 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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