Wildbuzz: Claws of law tighten grip on killers of migratory falcons
The wheels of justice have turned slowly for endangered migratory falcons and resident raptors. The pace gathered momentum last week. In a series of raids and crackdowns on a section of pigeon fanciers of Punjab who were slaughtering raptors such as the Tundra Peregrine falcon, the Punjab Wildlife Preservation wing arrested two fanciers from Sandoha village of Bathinda district and questioned another fancier from Gharuan village near Mohali. The wildlife officials also arrested two youths from village Lahora near Ludhiana, who were in illegal possession of two specimens of the resident raptor, the Black kite.
The raids were launched in response to exposé in the Wildbuzz column on April 22, 2018, and May 10, 2020. This writer had furnished brutal ISIS-style videos of raptor slaughter to the highest authorities at the level of the Union ministry of environment and forests, National Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, the Punjab Wildlife Preservation wing and the International Convention on Migratory Species Office, Abu Dhabi, in April 2018 and May 2020. India is a signatory to this Convention on the protection of all raptors.
Confirming the crackdown, Punjab principal chief conservator (wildlife), Dr Kuldeep Kumar, told this writer: “We are going to go strictly by the law. Raptors such as falcons enjoy the highest protection under the laws and it is a non-bailable offence. We want to put an end to this practise once and for all. We had earlier launched a sensitisation and awareness campaign in Punjab to get pigeon fanciers not to kill raptors. We aim to also find out to whom the pigeon fanciers have passed on the falcons or sold them after capture, if they did not kill them.”
Irked by raptors such as the Shikra, Eurasian Sparrow hawk, and the migratory Tundra Peregrine and Laggar falcons preying on their expensive pigeons, some fanciers captured raptors and made videos that were posted on TikTok and YouTube and went viral on WhatsApp. Some of these latest videos, which draw a huge number of views, ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, show gruesome beheading of the raptors or simply the wrenching off of the falcon’s head by a muscular Punjabi hand. Pigeon fanciers also shoot down falcons and make videos of that illegal act. Rogue pigeon fanciers in other states of India and Pakistan are also believed to indulge in this brutal killing.
Acting on a coordinated drive initiated by Dr Kumar, divisional forest officer (DFO), wildlife, at Bathinda, Swarn Singh, traced the pigeon fanciers to Sandoha village who had trapped a falcon from a high tower and then passed it off to someone else. The two videos showing the illegal acts by the Sandoha pigeon fanciers had been sent to the wildlife authorities by this writer in April 2018. “The persons arrested from village Sandoha near Maur are Gurprit Singh Mand and Nirmal Singh Billa. We have asked the Police to trace the person to whom the fanciers passed on the falcon,” Swarn Singh told this writer.
A team from the Ropar wildlife division led by DFO, wildife, Monika Yadav and range forest officer, Prem Singh, traced Gurvinder Singh from villager Gharuan, who had put up videos of him wrenching off the head of a falcon. “We have questioned him and taken his statement. He will be produced before the court,” Yadav told this writer. While the pigeon fanciers from Sandhoa village were arrested on the basis of the offending videos, the wildlife wing is yet to initiate the arrest of Gurvinder Singh of Gharuan who had put up a number of videos displaying acts in violation of wildlife protection laws.
As part of the crackdown on rogue pigeon fanciers, a team led by DFO, Phillaur, Khushwinder Singh, nabbed two youths of village Lahora near Ludhiana. “Though it does not seem they were pigeon fanciers, they had two Black kites in their possession. We are questioning them and one of them is Gurprit Singh,” Khushwinder Singh told this writer.