GUWAHATI: Purnima Devi Barman – a conservationist from Assam – has been awarded with “Champions of the Earth” award – the highest environmental honour of the United Nations. 

Purnima Devi Barman from Assam is the founder of the Hargila Army and senior project manager of Avifauna Research and Conservation Division, Aaranyak. 

“Wildlife biologist Dr Purnima Devi Barman of India leads the Hargila Army, an all-female movement protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork from extinction,” the United Nations in India stated. 

Purnima Devi Barman from Assam bagged the award along with four others from different countries for their transformative action to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation. 

The announcement of according the UN award to Purnima Devi Barman from Assam was made by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). 

Purnima Devi Barman from Assam – this year’s Champion of the Earth for Entrepreneurial Vision – was only a child when she developed an affinity for the stork, a bird that was to become her life’s passion. 

At the age of five, Barman was sent to live with her grandmother on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Assam.  

“I saw storks and many other species. I fell in love with the birds,” said Barman, a wildlife biologist from Assam who devoted much of her career to saving the endangered greater adjutant stork, the second-rarest stork species in the world. 

‘Hargila Army’ 

To protect the stork, Barman knew she had to change perceptions of the bird, known locally as “hargila” in Assamese (meaning “bone swallower”) 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 which have fallen from their nests and arrange “baby showers” to celebrate the arrival of new born chicks.  

The greater adjutant stork regularly features in folk songs, poems, festivals and plays. 

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