Siberian visitors freeze Assam-Meghalaya border dispute

Caught in a four-decade, inter-State wrangle, the villagers of Umru come together to ensure a safe stopover for a flock of Amur falcons

Umru village on the Assam-Meghalaya border lacks a road but that doesn’t stop its famous winter visitors — a flock of Amur falcons, the world’s longest travelling raptors. While Doyang Lake near Pangti village in Nagaland’s Wokha district is better known as a stopover for the Amur falcons during their annual migration from their breeding grounds in Mongolia and northern China to warmer South Africa, a flock has been seen since 2010 in Umru. The lack of an access road is not the only problem faced by the villagers. Umru is in Block II, one of 12 disputed areas along the Assam-Meghalaya border, since Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972. Assam claims the village is under Baithalangso Assembly constituency of East Karbi Anlong district while Meghalaya asserts it is under Mawhati Assembly constituency of its Ri-Bhoi district. The 50-odd Gorkha households in the village prefer to be in Assam while the 30 Khasi tribal households want to be in Meghalaya. “People here have become sensitive about the birds because of our awareness campaigns. They are also opening up to the idea of homestays for birdwatchers and nature lovers who come here for the Amur falcons,” the society’s chairman Jro Shadap said. And the lack of a road had cramped their plans to open up to birdwatchers. The former Congress-led coalition government in Meghalaya under Mukul M. Sangma had sanctioned a nine km road from nearest roadhead, Liarbang and the villagers hope work on the road will begin soon. The Umru-Tyrso area, about 75 km northeast of Shillong, however, is a relatively recent pit stop for the falcons. The birds used to flock to Umwang, also in the Block II disputed area, from 1998-2009 before human interference made them shift base. Wildlife officials in Nagaland also point out that the migratory birds used to roost in very large numbers in the Changtongya Community Conservation Reserve but moved on to Pangti and Yaongyimchen, a lesser roosting site. Efforts are on to revive the Changtongya area, about 100 km north of Pangti, for the migratory raptors.

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