Meet Purnima Devi Barman, the wildlife biologist, who received UN’s highest environmental honour

Meet Purnima Devi Barman, the wildlife biologist, recipient of the UN’s highest environmental honor

Indian wildlife biologist Purnima Devi Barman, who has dedicated her life to the conservation of greater adjutant storks – an endangered wetland bird – has become one of the program’s Champions of the Earth winners. United Nations Environment (UNEP) this year.

The awards, which were announced on November 22, are one of the highest environmental accolades and Barman was named the best in the “Entrepreneurial Vision” category.

This year alone, UNEP has registered approximately 2,200 nominations from around the world for the coveted award. Among that overwhelming number of nominees, Barman was one of five to take home the big win.

Celebrating her victory, Purnima Devi said Thread“The whole team is extremely honored to win this award.”

Other winners include a Lebanon-based non-profit group called Arcenciel who works on waste management, Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet from Central African Cameroon who works to improve women’s rights in the region, Constantino Aucca Chutas from Peru who pioneered the community reforestation model in the country. and Partha Dasgupta from the UK who works on the economics of biodiversity.

Who is Purnima Devi Bartender? What does his job consist of? We take a closer look.

Who is Purnima Devi Bartender?

For a woman who made a big name for herself as a wildlife advocate, Barman’s childhood wasn’t all happy and joyful.

The UNEP website mentions that when she was five years old, she was sent to live with her grandmother in Assam, on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. The separation of the little girl from her parents and siblings became so strong that she soon became inconsolable.

Bartender found solace in birds when her grandmother, a farmer, took her to a rice paddy to tell her about the different birds in the area.

She said: “I saw storks and many other species. She taught me bird songs. She asked me to sing for the egrets and the storks. I fell in love with birds.

His love for birds – especially storks – and wildlife was so strong that Barman decided to make a career out of it. She then pursued a master’s degree in zoology. Before she could start working on a doctoral thesis on the great adjutant stork, also called ‘Hargila’ in Assam, she discovered that the birds she had grown up with were disappearing.

Therefore, she put a break on her thesis and focused more on keeping the species alive. In 2007, she launched a campaign to protect the stork in villages located in Kamrup district of Assam where the stork population was most concentrated.

It was from there that his long and impactful journey as a conservationist for wildlife and storks began.

His work

Before launching her campaign, Purnima Devi discovered that the extinction of storks was the result of the “unwelcoming” nature of the people of Assam.

She says that in Assam, particularly in Kamrup district, the bird is criticized for being scavengers that feed on carcasses and bring dead animals back to their nesting trees, many of which grow in people’s gardens.

To combat the nuisance created by the storks, which are around 5 feet tall, villagers used to cut down large trees in their backyards to deprive them of a place to live, ultimately leading to their extinction.

Bartender, who herself was mocked for saving the birds, said: ‘The bird was totally misunderstood. They were treated as a bad omen, bad luck or vector of disease.

She knew that to solve this problem, she had to change the perception of the people of the village. And since the bird needed protection as it plays a vital role in a wetland ecosystem, she mobilized local women and built an army called the “Army of Hargila”.

Conservation efforts included building tall bamboo nesting platforms to provide endangered birds with a platform to hatch their eggs and give them habitat space.

Purnima Devi is also a senior project manager of an NGO called “Avifauna Research and Conservation Division”.

The Army of Hargila

The brainchild of Purnima Devi, Hargila’s Army has been a hit ever since its launch.

Today, the group is made up of over 10,000 women from across Assam who work together to protect nesting sites and rehabilitate injured storks that fall from their nests.

To encourage a growing population of storks, the group also celebrates the arrival of newborn chicks by hosting baby showers for them.

Apart from this, in order to spread awareness of Hargil, Purnima Devi thought it would be a good idea to open an entrepreneurship branch under the army where women weave looms and yarn to create textiles decorated with bird motifs.

In addition to creating awareness, the business has also made women financially independent and improved their livelihoods.

The army, since its operation, has built around 250 nesting houses in the villages of Dadara, Pachariya and Singimari from just 28 nests. Today, Kamrup district has become the largest breeding colony of greater adjutant storks in the world.

Why is stork conservation so important?

Once the most abundant stork in the world, the largest adjutant storks are now only found in parts of Cambodia and India.

Their apparent extinction is a threat to the wetland ecosystem because of their quality as scavengers whose diet includes fish, rodents and snakes. Their large size allows them to swallow large bones.

For this very reason, they have also acquired the status of “cleaners” of their ecosystem who also act as predators of wetlands.

With contributions from agencies

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