Conservation of Amur Falcons by Umru Biodiversity Management Committee, Meghalaya
The high altitude hill station of Umru, in the Ri Bhoi district of Meghalaya in the North East biogeographic region of India, is the roosting destination for one of the world’s longest travelling raptors, the Amur falcons (Falco amurensis). They make the voyage from breeding grounds in Russia and China to southern Africa, via North-Eastern India and the Arabian Sea. The thick canopies of bamboo in Umru serve as resting sites for thousands of these raptors, prior to their further journey to Nagaland. They have been classified under the category of ‘least concern’ in the IUCN red list and are threatened mostly from hunting and loss of habitat.
Need for the Initiative
Until 2015, Amur falcons were being trapped, killed and sold in local markets in Umru every year for consumption and commercial purposes. They would either be shot with air guns, catapults or bow and arrow or trapped with nets smeared with sticky chemicals or sap of jackfruit. The gradually diminishing Bamboo cover worsened these bird’s chances to seek shelter. The estimated number of birds arriving in Umru around the year 2008 is estimated to be approximately 300,000-400,000. However, the number of birds for further journeys was reduced to half of its earlier recorded population by the year 2015.
Forests in Meghalaya range from tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate with several bamboo pockets interspersed in between. These forests are largely under the community and private ownership. The private forests are managed by individuals, whereas the Community forests are under the administrative control of the Village Durbars under the Autonomous District Councils. In Umru, the community (40 per cent) and private forests (60 per cent) are spread across an area of approximately 40 hectares with an additional 18 hectares of Bamboo pockets interspersed in between. The Village Durbar, has formulated certain rules and regulations for the management of the community forests - extraction of wood and NTFPs along with hunting activities, without obtaining permission, and lighting of fire inside the community forests is prohibited. In 2016, the Umru Village Durbar set up a Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) as per the mandates of The Biodiversity Act, 2002, which has played an important role in creating awareness regarding good conservation practices and sustainable harvesting of bio-resources.
Following the excessive hunting and trapping of the Amur falcons in Umru, the BMC took various initiatives such as, community patrolling to stop hunting activities, prohibiting the use of local traps, destroying poaching camps, imposing heavy fines on defaulters, encouraging conservation of the bamboo plantations which provide temporary shelters to the Falcons and conducting awareness programmes amongst local communities to stop consuming falcon meat. The BMC members started receiving death threats from poachers but it did not deter them from carrying out the monitoring activities. They have received great help from the Wildlife Wing of the Forest Department of Meghalaya who have assisted them by providing additional patrolling teams.
The initiatives have resulted in the return of Amur Falcons in vast numbers, to their migration resort in Umru, in recent years. Umru BMC, inspired by other villages with similar congregations of Amur attracting tourists, is now more determined to make their village a safe habitat for the Falcons and explore ecotourism, as a viable alternative livelihood option. The conservation of the Bamboo plantations further contributes to slope stabilization and control of soil erosion, and the forests act as a carbon sink, along with providing NTFPs to the community. Education is a major challenge in the village and the community feels they are at a disadvantage when it comes to interacting with tourists and connecting with the outer world. An intervention towards capacity building for the community members in terms of dealing with tourists, managing infrastructure and finances can accelerate the development of the entire village.
Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards
The Umru Biodiversity Management Committee received special mention in the India Biodiversity Awards under the category ‘Conservation of Species in Wild’ in 2018.