Though hunting in India is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, illegal animal trade is still practised on a large scale all over the country. Hunting and poaching are difficult to control, especially in the northeastern region, where hunting is a traditional way of life for several tribes.
One such region is Pangti, a remote village in the Wokha district of Nagaland. In 2012, Pangti received global criticism over the reported killing of thousands of migratory Amur Falcons who come to roost here from Serbia. A year later, Pangti made headlines again — the number of Amur Falcons hunted in the region that year had gone down to zero.
In just one year, Pangti's residents had become conservationists of these visiting raptors. This story of transition has been recounted by the village locals in the documentary The Pangti Story, which won a National Film Award in 2018, in the category of Best Environmental Film.
"I first read about the Amur Falcons in the local newspapers. The shocking revelation of the massacre of hundreds and thousands of birds horrified not just the global environmentalists, but locals like me too. Efforts to stop the killings had begun and they earned Nagaland global recognition, it was even named the 'the falcon capital of the world'. A closer look reveals that at the heart of this change was a village in Nagaland’s Wokha District. That’s when my interest zeroed in on Pangti," says Sesino Yhoshu, the director of the film.
The film opens with a local, Thungdemo Yanthan, rowing through the Doyang Reservoir. Because it is situated near the Doyang River, the areas surrounding Pangti were flooded after the construction of a dam. Yanthan says, "I was aware of what was happening even though I was very young, the construction of the dam had caused the water level to rise."
The construction of the Doyang Reservoir saw an increase in the number of Amur Falcons coming to roost in the jungles of Pangti. These birds undertake a 22,000 kilometre journey every year. From their breeding grounds in Siberia and northern China, they migrate west, across the Arabian Sea, to Southern Africa, where they spend the winters. This is one of the longest migratory routes covered by a specie, and during this journey of 10-odd days, these birds make Nagaland their roosting ground.
"I do not remember how it began, but we had started trapping and consuming these birds in 2005-2006," Yanthan recounts in the documentary. The villagers had soon started using fishing nets to capture more and more Amur Falcons; over 14,000 of these birds were being killed in Pangti every day till 2012.
The 26-minute documentary also features Bano Haralu, managing trustee of the Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust, who was at the helm of the 2012 research project aimed at the authentication of the falcon killings happening in the village. She says, "When I made a trip to the Doyang killing fields in October 2012, it turned out, it was a sight that… if one doesn’t it see for themselves, it would be very difficult to believe that such a thing was happening." The film also includes some clips and photographs of the trapped birds that Haralu managed to capture in 2012.
Sesino’s lens traces the efforts made by Haralu in getting the local government and village council to put a ban on the killing of the birds. Haralu also took up the initiative to start campaigns aimed at educating people about the importance of conservation. About one such club, Sesino says, "The Amur Falcon Eco Club was started in 2013. It mainly targeted the children of the hunters and fishermen in the area, in order to educate them about the importance of conservation. It’s a long-term approach to build a new perspective about conservation. Bano Haralu observes how, at the end of the film, the concept of wildlife for the children had changed from being about dead deer, trapped birds and dead fish, to flowing rivers, trees and so on in just three months. These observations give hope for long-term conservation in Nagaland."
Harvesting Amur Falcons had become a good source of income for the villagers. With each bird being sold for around Rs 25, a household in Pangti could earn around Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 during the bird's roosting season. "It was not an easy transition for them, since they were dependent on the hunting and selling of these birds for one-two months every year," says Sesino.
Though the hunters are now a part of the protection squad and guard the jungles, they’re still facing financial struggles. Towards the end of the documentary, Yanthan says, "Our situation can improve if the government supports us, not just assure us with mere words. If not, we might consider going back to our old ways."
The Pangti Story, which took roughly two years to be made, is not just about the massacre and eventual conservation of the Amur Falcon. "This film is the story of a village. It is an effort to understand what happened in Pangti, and how it became a hunting-free zone," says Sesino. Though it revolves around the hunting of these visiting raptors, the film is filled with panoramic and picturesque visuals of the village. It captures the idiosyncrasies of everyday life in Pangti. "Although it is about a hunting story, we wanted to give a subtle observational account about what happened in Pangti. It was an intentional decision to give the film this look."
Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 20:40 PM