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It’s hope amid the gloom. 2013 will be remembered for the Amur falcon, a small, grey, insectivorous raptor that has changed lives in the wildlife conservation community, especially in Nagaland. Where tiger and rhino poaching continues unabated, conservation efforts to ensure safe passage for the Amur falcon, which makes a pit stop en route to its winter migration from Russia to South Africa, have been unprecedented.

“The species undertakes one of the most notable migrations of any bird of prey, departing their breeding grounds in late August and September, moving south through China, skirting the eastern edge of the Himalaya to reach North-East India and Bangladesh, where they settle temporarily to fatten before embarking through the Indian subcontinent and across the Indian Ocean to southern Africa. The unique non-stop journey of 3,000km across the Indian Ocean typically takes place in late November and December, aided by the prevailing easterly winds," according to a 2011 paper by ornithologists Andrew Dixon, Nyambayar Batbayar and Gankhuyag Purev-Ochir. The journey takes about four-five days. Bernd Meyburg, an expert on the satellite tracking of raptors, has established that they fly 2,500-3,100km over the sea non-stop in two-three days.

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This year, in a remarkable U-turn, not a single bird was harmed. This was the biggest conservation success story in recent years, and that too in just a year of sustained campaigning by a group of wildlife conservation NGOs and the state administration led by the chief minister.

Chief minister Neiphiu Rio sent out a message earlier this year: “The Amur falcons are beautiful migratory birds, which visit Nagaland every year in thousands, in their long migratory journey from Siberia en route to South Africa, covering 22,000km in a year. It is our duty to protect these wonderful birds while they are passing through Nagaland and treat them as our honoured and esteemed guests, in true Naga tradition of hospitality." He threatened to stop grants to villages involved in hunting the falcons (see Mint’s “The flight of the Amur Falcon", 29 October.)

But what changed lives was Rio’s unannounced visit to the Doyang reservoir (10-11 November) at the peak of the migratory season. He came to soak in one of nature’s great spectacles, a sky full of falcons. His two-day interaction with villagers was a game-changer—the Naga community understood the global implications of conservation and how their lives were ecologically entwined with it.

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