India: Annual 2-week hunt kills up to 140,000 falconsBy Graham Land Dec 10, 2012 9:26PM UTC
In the mountains of Nagaland in northeastern India, hundreds of thousands of Amur falcons stop off en route from Siberia to eastern and southern Africa. During the two weeks in which the falcons pass through Nagaland, 12,000 – 14,000 are caught every day for food and sale.
According to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) India is obliged to prevent such a mass slaughter, which is considered bush meat hunting on an enormous scale. Conservation India has dedicated itself to stopping this massacre and has been assured by Indian Government officials that they will cooperate.
The Amurs perch on power lines and periodically descend into patches of forest to roost. Hunters set up fishing nets in these patches to ensnare the falcons.
Birds get caught in the nets in large numbers. These birds get tangled in the nets while they come to roost during late evenings or when they leave the roost early in the morning. The nets were permanent and the hunters come every morning to remove the trapped birds. The nets were observed over the entire roosting area giving virtually no safe area for the birds. Branches and paths were cleared to set up the nets.
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Amur falcons are small raptors, about half the size of a pigeon, which chiefly feed on insects such as termites as well as the occasional small rodent, amphibian or bird. The falcons are unusual for the length and nature of their migration: up to 22,000 km (14,000 mi) with a possible nighttime stretch of 3,000 km (2,000) over the ocean.
Dr. Rohan H. Wickramasinghe, writing in Sri Lanka’s The Island, compares the Amur slaughter to the kind of hunt that rapidly drove the North American passenger pigeon from the most numerous bird species on the planet to extinction in a little over 100 years:
[…] commercial interests took over in the early 19th century and the birds were slaughtered en masse by settlers in order to provide a cheap source of protein for slaves and servants and hogs. Some carcasses were used for agricultural fertiliser. The gradual decline in numbers from 1800 to 1870 accelerated from 1870 to 1890. The last known Passenger Pigeon, which had been named Martha, died in Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
Wickramasinghe also points out that the Amur falcon may be keeping insect populations along their migratory route. Their decline and disappearance could have serious consequences in terms of biodiversity and agriculture.
Remember Mao’s Four Pests Campaign?
Read more about the plight of the Amur falcon from Conservation India and check out this photo essay on the hunt in National Geographic. For a bright spark of a story on how one satellite-tracked Amur beat the odds and escaped the hunt in India three years in a row, see this piece in Tanzania’s Daily News.