Bano Haralu – Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
In October 2012, stark photographic and video evidence of fishermen training their fishing nets to the sky to trap thousands of migratory Amur Falcons stunned the world of conservation. With three others, I was able to document this ‘dark harvest’ around the Doyang Reservoir in Nagaland’s Wokha district. On that trip we estimated 1,40,000 birds being exterminated between October and early December every year. The shrill cry of the captured birds echoed in my ears while the sheer numbers spelt disaster before my eyes. The encounter jarred my senses and my understanding of the Naga community. Local hunters would later tell us that our figures were an insult and that the truth was far uglier – more than double our estimates!
As we documented the spoils of one hunter after another, my mind raced. How on earth were we to tell this story and follow it through? Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, more so with hard evidence to prove their culpability. With hunting upheld as a traditional right in Nagaland, I was sure we would face a storm of opposition, maybe even violence! It was soon time to face my fears following the media blitzkrieg; ‘Massacre of the Amur Falcons’ on www.conservationindia.org by Ramki Sreenivasan and Shashank Dalvi in whose company I unearthed this horror.
I found myself attending a meeting organised by the Forest Department in the heart of the ‘killing fields’. I was easily the unhappiest person in the room, full of village elders and community leaders. My anxieties were misplaced. Not one person in the room questioned the story in the newspapers. Instead they wanted to know what we felt was wrong in hunting birds that they regarded as ‘manna’ from heaven! My sympathies that afternoon were with the forest officer. He faced a barrage of angry villagers, incensed by elephants destroying their paddy fields and inadequate compensation. The flight of the Amur Falcon paled by comparison.
The questions and doubts raised at a series of such meetings resulted in one of the most successful campaigns to be launched in India in decades. ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’ was born from such community consultations and the primary strategy we employed was to educate children on issues relating to nature conservation and its benefits on the quality of their own lives. We have just about 100 children enrolled in five eco-clubs, one in each selected village. In a show of solidarity, four credible organisations joined hands in the mission in 2013 – Wildlife Conservation Society, Raptor Research & Conservation Foundation, Bombay Natural History Society and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
In under a year of the exposè and roughly six weeks before the migrating falcons flew in from Mongolia (enroute to South Africa), the village councils of Pangti, Sungro and Aasha imposed a ban on hunting Amur Falcons. For the first time in 10 years the birds would be guaranteed safe passage over what is now recognised as the world’s largest Amur Falcon roosting site!
I am often asked what influenced the village council to impose the ban. How could the government overlook this scale of hunting that had gone on for decades? I have no answers. It really seemed like the timing of our visit, the impact of the report, the response of the village council and the willingness of the hunters to give conservation a chance, was orchestrated by a mightier force.
Bano Haralu is a pioneering television journalist of Northeast India. After two decades of reporting, she returned to Nagaland in 2010 to work for nature conservation. She formed the Nagaland Wildlife & Biodiversity Conservation Trust in 2013 and serves as its Managing Trustee.
Author: Bano Haralu, Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 6, June 2015.