Biologist Purnima Devi Barman has rallied an army of over 10,000 women in rural Assam to save the greater adjutant stork (Hargila) from extinction
In 2007, Biologist Purnima Devi Barman started her PhD on the Greater Adjutant Stork. But she did not know that that will lead her to mobilise an army of women for the conservation of the bird. The Greater Adjutant Stork or Hargila as it’s named in the local language is a bird found only in India and Cambodia and is limited to a few pockets in Assam and Bihar. The bird is about to become extinct because of deforestation and other threats to its natural habitat.
Purnima saw the fate of a few stork babies which fell to the ground after the tree they lived in was cut down. She decided that there is no use in doing a PhD if the stork becomes extinct. She started trying to educate the villagers of Assam about the importance of the bird and the need of protecting it. But the villagers did not take her seriously. They considered the Hargila bird a bad omen because of its smell. Purnima did not give up and tried to educate them about how the bird keeps the environment clean and how they are part of our culture.
Eventually, the women began to come around. A small band of women became the centre of a mass social movement and a Hargila Army that now has more than 10,000 women in its fold, all active conservationists, empowered to make a difference. Purnima becomes tearful when she describes about this army of women who have become conservationists from simple homemakers. Now it is these women who rope in others and educate them about the importance of protecting this bird.
While the greater adjutant stork remains an endangered species, its numbers are increasing. From 27 nests, there are now 250 and the Hargila Army and villagers are ensuring its protection to enable further breeding.
Purnima has been recognised for her work with the Nari Shakti Puraskar in 2017 and the Whitley award, from the UK. Purnima’s life and work are part of the National Geographic ‘Change for One’ campaign launched on Earth Day.
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