India
July 19, 2024
Purnima Devi Barman: A Champion for the Greater Adjutant Stork
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Purnima Devi Barman: A Champion for the Greater Adjutant Stork

Jun 19, 2024

In the serene wetlands of Northeast India, where the mighty Brahmaputra River weaves its way through verdant landscapes, Dr. Purnima Devi Barman found her calling amidst the towering Greater Adjutant Storks. Born and raised in Assam, Purnima’s childhood was colored by the sights and sounds of these majestic birds, known locally as Hargilas.

“Their feathers, their intense blue eyes, the sounds of their beaks were my childhood friends,” Purnima reminisces with a warm smile. “I love everything about them; they are very inspiring. But everyone else seemed to hate them.”

Indeed, the Greater Adjutant Stork, with its ungainly appearance and scavenging habits, faced disdain and dwindling numbers. Purnima, however, saw beyond appearances. She saw a species in peril, a creature integral to the delicate ecosystem of Assam’s wetlands.

Driven by a passion for wildlife conservation, Purnima embarked on a journey to save the Hargilas from the brink of extinction. Armed with a degree in wildlife biology and unwavering determination, she began her grassroots efforts. In 2017, her dedication was recognized when she received the prestigious Whitley Award for her pioneering work.

“Their population had dropped to around 450 birds in Northeast India before my intervention,” Purnima explains, her voice tinged with concern. “I knew I had to act swiftly and decisively.”

Purnima’s approach was revolutionary yet rooted in local communities. She mobilized women, empowering them as guardians of the Hargila through what she fondly calls the ‘Hargila Army’ of ‘Stork sister’ advocates. These women, once indifferent or unaware of the storks’ plight, became passionate champions of conservation.

“The Hargila Army is not just about saving a bird; it’s about transforming lives and perspectives,” Purnima states emphatically. “When children accompany their mothers in the Hargila Army, it imbues our mission with deeper meaning.”

Her efforts did not stop there. Purnima envisioned a future where the Greater Adjutant Stork thrives across its range, not just in India but also in Cambodia. Her ambitious goal: to double the global population of the bird to 5,000 by 2030. This vision drives her to expand community-driven conservation initiatives, educate thousands of students about biodiversity, and foster knowledge exchange among universities.

Recently, Purnima’s dedication and impact were recognized once more as she was awarded the Whitley Gold Award, a testament to her relentless pursuit of conservation excellence. This prestigious honor, accompanied by GBP 100,000 in project funding, will further fuel her mission and amplify her voice on a global stage.

As Purnima Devi Barman stands amidst the wetlands she calls home, watching a pair of Greater Adjutant Storks take flight against the backdrop of a setting sun, she knows her journey is far from over. With unwavering passion and the support of her community and partners worldwide, she continues to rewrite the story of the Hargila, ensuring that future generations will grow up in a world where these magnificent birds still grace the skies.

In the heart of Assam, where the river flows and the wetlands teem with life, Purnima Devi Barman remains a beacon of hope for the Greater Adjutant Stork and a shining example of what one person’s dedication can achieve for the planet we all share.

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