Purnima Devi Barman from India has received the highest environmental award from the United Nations

Wildlife biologist and Green Oscar winner Purnima Devi Bartender. file. | Photo credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Indian wildlife biologist Dr.

Dr. Barman was awarded the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Champions of the Earth 2022 award in the Entrepreneurial vision category.

Read | Purnima Barman works with communities to protect scruffy and endangered stork in Assam

A wildlife biologist Dr. Barmaid leads the “Hargila Army”, an all-female grassroots conservation movement dedicated to protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork from extinction. The women create and sell fabrics with motifs of the bird, helping to raise awareness of the species while building their own financial independence.

Dr Barman is also Senior Project Manager of the Avifauna Research and Conservation Division, Aaranyak.

The UNEP website states that at the age of five Dr. Barmaid was sent to live with her grandmother on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Assam. “Separated from her parents and siblings, the girl became inconsolable. To distract her, Dr. Barman’s grandmother, a farmer, began taking her to nearby rice paddies and wetlands to teach her about birds there.”

“I saw storks and many other species. She taught me bird songs. She asked me to sing for the egrets and storks. I fell in love with birds,” said Dr. Barista, who has dedicated much of his career to saving the endangered adjutant stork, the second rarest stork species in the world.

“Barman’s pioneering conservation work has empowered thousands of women, creating entrepreneurs and improving livelihoods, while bringing the adjutant stork back from the brink of extinction,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

‘Dr Barman’s work has shown that human-wildlife conflict can be resolved to the benefit of all. She underscores the detrimental impact that wetland loss has had on the species that feed and reproduce on them , reminds us of the importance of protecting and restoring ecosystems.” According to information on the UNEP website, to protect the stork, Dr. Barman knew he had to change perceptions of the bird, known locally as “hargila” to Assamese (meaning “bone eater”) and mobilized a group of village women to help her.

Today the “Hargila Army” consists of over 10,000 women. They protect nesting sites, rehabilitate injured storks that have fallen from their nests, and organize ‘baby showers’ to celebrate the arrival of newborn chicks. The adjutant stork regularly appears in folk songs, poems, festivals and plays.

Since Dr. Barman started his conservation programme, the number of nests in Dadara, Pachariya and Singimari villages in Kamrup district has increased from 28 to more than 250, making this the largest adjutant stork breeding colony largest in the world, said UNEP.

“In 2017, Barman began building tall nesting platforms out of bamboo for endangered birds to brood on their eggs. His efforts were rewarded a couple of years later, when the first adjutant stork chicks are born on these experimental platforms,” he added.

Dr Barman said on the UNEP website that one of his greatest rewards has been the sense of pride that has been instilled in Hargila’s army and he hopes their success will inspire the next generation of conservationists to pursue their dreams .

“Being a woman conservationist in a male-dominated society is challenging, but Hargila’s military has shown how women can make a difference,” she said.

UNEP said that since its inception in 2005, the annual Champions of the Earth award has been given to pioneers on the front lines of efforts to protect our natural world. It is the United Nations’ highest environmental honor. To date, the award has recognized 111 winners: 26 world leaders, 69 individuals and 16 organizations. This year, a record 2,200 nominations were received from around the world.

Other honorees include Arcenciel (Lebanon); Constantine (Tinos) Aucca Chutas (Peru); Sir Partha Dasgupta from the UK and Cecile Bibiane Ndjebet (Cameroon).

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