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Op-Ed

A journey with the Amur falcon

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By EMN Updated: Nov 23, 2013 9:58 pm
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Jack T. Chakhesang

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ust a couple of days ago, Eastern Mirror had reported the flight of Amur falcons particularly three of them which had been fitted with satellite tags. The bird named ‘Naga’ was fitted with Colour Ring KAM, Ring Number C56801 and is the only male out of the three. ‘Wokha’, a female Amur was fitted with Colour Ring Number KCM, Ring Number C58802 and ‘Pangti’ another female bird has Ring KFM, Ring Number C56803.The birds then flew over Manipur’s Senapati and Churachandpur districts, then on over Aizawl in Mizoram and entered Bangladesh and thence over the Bay of Bengal to Andhra Pradesh and crossed over Karnataka and Goa and zoomed over the Arabian Sea.
Birds Naga and Pangti were spotted flying over Somalia on November 17 and were on their way to Kenya while Wokha was on the Somalian coast on November 19. All three were, along with others continuing in heir migration from Doyang, in Wokha district which has been their roosting site, on a 13-day flight en route to South Africa.
Until recently, the Naga villagers had not been much aware of the significance of the migration of these Amur falcons. The villagers, particularly of Pangti. Ashaa and Doyang had perhaps just taken it for granted that these birds would come over their land like clockwork precision.
These amazing raptors, smallest birds of prey, travel one of the longest migration routes of all birds, doing up to 22,000 km in a year, they arrive in Nagaland from Siberia en route to their final destination — Somalia, Kenya and South Africa. It was estimated that during the peak migration 12,000 to 14,000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale everyday.
It is further estimated that 120,000 to 140,000 birds are being slaughtered in Nagaland every year during their passage through the state. It is tragic that these birds meet such a fate on their long journeys, and only very recently the Naga public in general and the world at large decided that they must be protected. The plight of the Amur Falcons had been extant since decades, perhaps centuries, but now everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon for their protection, and conservation.
No matter whatever fine actions the Forest and Wild Life departments may have taken recently including attempt to garner the credit on its own without acknowledging some NGOs who had first publicized the plight of the Amur Falcons who belong to one of the 60 species of hawks, it is just as well that Nagas are now aware of such an honoured sojourn of these raptors.
It is here that yours truly began to wonder whether or not these Amurs were aware of the tragic story of country Somalia. Once it had been three. French Somaliland in the far north, is now Djibouti, still surviving with a strong French influence, a resident French Legion garrison and a huge American base whose rent has been crucial to the economy. Also in the north is former British Somaliland and now called just Somaliland, also quiet, peaceful, even democratic but bizarrely unrecognized by the world as a nation State. The Somalis in both the northern provinces just might be relishing Amur Falcon flesh because of French and British influence.
The bulk is former Italian Somaliland, confiscated after World War Two, administered for a while by the British and then given independence. After a few years of the usual dictatorship, the once thriving and elegant colony where wealthy Italians used to vacation had lapsed into civil war. Clan fought clan, tribe fought tribe, warlord after warlord sought supremacy. Finally, with Mogadishu the capital just a sea of rubble, the outside world had given up. A belated notoriety had returned when the beggared fishermen of the north turned to piracy and the south to Islamic fanaticism. Al-Shabaab had arisen out as an offshoot but an ally of Al-Qaeda and conquered all the south. Mogadishu hovered as a fragile token capital of a corrupt regime living on aid, but in an encircled enclave whose border is guarded by a mixed army of Kenyans, Ethiopians, Ugandans and Burundians. Inside the wall of guns foreign money poured into aid projects and various spooks scuttle about pretending to be something else.
So, if Somalia has any fame at all, it has been for the pirates who for ten years had been hijacking ships off the coast and ransoming vessels, cargoes and crews for millions of Dollars. But the pirates were in the north, in Puntland, a great wild and desolate wilderness peopled by clans and tribes that the Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) had once described as the most savage people in the world. The pirates are all clan chiefs of Puntland, operating out of an 800-mile coast from Bosaaso in the north to Mareeg just up the coast from Mogadishu. They took to piracy for the money and that is all. Their excuse was that years ago fishing fleets from South Korea and Taiwan had arrived and gutted their traditional fishing grounds from which they made a livelihood. Whatever the rights and wrongs, they had turned to piracy and since then made huge earnings, far more than those generated by a few Tuna fish. The money was usually paid by the owners of the vessels after negotiations through bargaining.
They had started by boarding and capturing merchant ships steaming past their coast just offshore. With time and expertise learnt from the game, they had ranged further and further east and south. Like any new venture, their captures were small in the beginning, their negotiations clumsy and suitcases of Dollar bills (common currency of the world) were dropped by light aircraft flying up from Kenya to a pre-agreed dropping zone at sea.
However, on the coast no one trusted anyone. No honour among these thieves. Ships captured by one group were stolen by another clan, Rival groups fought over floating suitcases of cash. But eventually, a kind of agreed procedure prevailed. The officers and crew of a captured ship lived on board in barely reasonable conditions but with a dozen guards while negotiations between their principals—ship-owner and clan chief—dragged on. Nowadays it is done with modern technology—computers and iPhones. Money is no longer dropped like bombs from on high because the Somalis had numbered bank accounts from which the money would immediately disappear.
For the insurers, cargo that is delayed is as good as lost. For the ship-owners a vessel not earning is an operational loss. Plus distress of the crew and their anxious families. So, an early conclusion was the immediate aim. They had the clocks but the Somali pirates were aware of this, and preferred to bide their time instead. Thus the game goes on and Indian fishermen being arrested for fishing by Pakistani Navy or Sri Lankan Navy on their waters pale into significance. However, Somali pirates have become much cautious these days because the Western countries have eventually reacted by even sending in Marines and captured pirates have been jailed in Seychelles.
From this, one sometimes tends to think that there are greater crooks in other parts of the world than in our very own land. We generally tend to be crooked but are nevertheless hampered by an element of innocence which provides a chance for escape into honesty and for which our forefathers were renowned.
For birds Naga and Pangti their flight over Kenya may have been more peaceful. The country is pro-British and with American aid is among the most stable and democratic Black African countries. It is also one of the most economically dynamic as well. South Africa had indeed suffered from the travails of Apartheid for decades. But its leaders mainly of the Zulu tribe, began to raise their voices. For instance, Bishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Against much misgiving he was allowed to travel abroad and when he was invited to the USA, he spoke at a gathering: “When the White missionaries first came to our (Zulu) land, they had the Bible in one hand and told my people let us pray. When we raised our heads, we had the Bible and they had the land!”
Nelson Mandela, one of the foremost leaders of African National Congress (ANC), was imprisoned for 27 years on Robbins Island and was also awarded the Nobel honour. President Pieter Botha tried to negotiate with him but was rebuffed. President F.W. de Klerk saw the writing on the wall and set Mandela free. Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus does him much honour. Above all, the Republic of South Africa is famed for its natural resources not the least being its gold and diamond mines. It is also the richest African country economically. An all race democratic election was held in 1991 and it inaugurated policies to conciliate Black political organisations and has a much heralded non-racial democratic Constitution that was formally adopted in 1996.
The Amurs from here will be on their way north but via a different route to the land of their birth in Siberia and Mongolia. It is believed that Nagas have originated from Mongolia which is also the birth place of the great conqueror Ghengiz Khan whose descendants reportedly number about two million as of now. So, this is one factor that we Nagas share with the Amur Falcons although our ancestors did not fly over. Still, one can try and visualize the varied lands that they have been flying over—and have been doing so for centuries.
Can our people ever grasp the significance of the inherent legacy endowed with us by Providence? In fashion, music, new-fangled ideas and the like, we are perhaps as good as the best in the world. Many of us speak and write English very well also. But our intellect still needs a long way to go for the majority of us. Certainly, we must preserve our identity through conservation of our roots in our land. At the same time, we must also try and keep up not necessarily with the Joneses but with the ever changing history (which encompasses all aspects of life) and for which all men are responsible to better or not destroy.

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By EMN Updated: Nov 23, 2013 9:58:40 pm