Thousands of Amur falcons heading to southern Africa are being killed on a daily basis in north eastern India. The birds are being captured in fishing nets and then sold as meat.

Johannesburg - The last time she made this crossing, the dangers she faced threatened her species.

But this year the fishing nets that were strung high from the trees lining the Doyang reservoir in India are gone, and the Amur falcon simply known as 95778 has covered that leg of the migration safely.

Over the coming weeks, her journey will take her across the Indian ocean to the horn of Africa, then south.

This is the fourth year that bird enthusiasts have been able to track 95778’s flight path to Africa.

But now the matchbox-sized GPS transmitter she carries on her back emits only the faintest of signals.

“The signal strength is very poor, this is probably going to be the last time we see her journey,” said Rina Pretorius, who was involved with the initial capture of the bird and its tracking.

Last week, satellites picked up those faint signals over the Indian ocean – she was on her way to Africa.

It was at the Doyang reservoir last year that Indian conservation authorities found that locals were killing thousands of Amur falcons on a daily basis.

The birds of prey, following their migration route from their breeding grounds in Mongolia, fly over the reservoir in late October, early November in their millions.

The birds were caught in fishing nets then sold as meat.

The killings were on such a large scale, some ornithologists at the time worried about the effect it would have on the species as a whole.

This year, there was no slaughter. What stopped it, said Ramki Sreenivasan of Conservation India who last year travelled to the province of Nagaland and witnessed the killings, was a conservation success story.

Joint initiatives, he said, saved the day.

“There have been absolutely no killings reported so far,” said Sreenivasan.

“This remarkable outcome has been the result of a full year of painstaking effort from the Nagaland government (especially the forest department), NGO groups, and most importantly, the local communities who were determined to end the killings.”

Last year Sreenivasan came back from Nagaland with photographs of thousands of birds, some kept alive in cages, waiting to be bought for as little as R2.40 each.

Part of stopping the killing involved an education campaign and the face of this initiative was one of a batch of Amur falcons that was caught with 95778.

This bird was named 95773, the number of the satellite she had strapped to her.

Amur falcon 95773’s incredible journey was used to teach the children in the surrounding villages about this amazing bird.

Her journey began when she was caught at a roost in Newcastle in 2009. She, 95778 and eight other birds had satellite transmitters fitted to them and were then released.

What the satellite tracking did, was to allow scientists a peek into the world of these pigeon-sized raptors.

They were amazed to discover that the birds flew non-stop across the Indian ocean between Somalia and India, a journey that usually took them just over two days to complete.

Each of the birds stopped transmitting one by one, but 95778 kept on going.

“Each of the children were given an Amur falcon passport, which was used as a key education tool in our EcoClubs. The passport has 95773 on its cover,” said Sreenivasan.

This year 95778 is not alone on her latest migration to the southern hemisphere.

Three other Amur falcons caught near the Doyang reservoir have been fitted with transmitters.

And this time, not only scientists will be able to follow their migration – anyone with access to the internet will be able to watch them as they head to southern Africa. - The Star

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