Practices & Solutions

Conservation of the Greater Adjutant by Dr. Purnima Devi Barman & Women’s Hargilla Army

Background

Purnima Devi Barman, or ‘Hargila Baido’, (stork sister), as she is commonly known, is a wildlife biologist, working towards the conservation of The Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) since 2009, in Dadara, Pacharia and Singimari villages of the Kamrup district, in the state of Assam in the North-East biogeographic region of India. The Greater Adjutant is a large, dark stork with a thick bill and pendulous neck pouch. Primarily a scavenger of carrion, it is locally known as ‘Hargila’ or bone-swallower and is spotted either near slaughterhouses and refuse sites or found foraging near partially-dried water bodies. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) recently included the Greater Adjutant as one of its Evolutionary Distinct Globally Endangered (EDGE) species and placed it in the top 100 species on the road to extinction.

Need for the Initiative

Its global population stands at a mere 1000-1,200 mature individuals. The bird is threatened from loss of foraging wetlands, poaching, nest falls and felling of nesting trees. Protection of nesting trees12 is a challenge, since the nesting colonies are located outside the Protected Area Network in Assam. This bird was treated as bad omen, and a disease carrying pest by many community members and therefore the nesting trees would be cut down and the bird would be forced to leave its nest. Additionally, the bird is threatened by contamination of open rubbish dumps, where pollutants are disposed of. In Assam, pesticide use at open rubbish dumps where storks flocked to feed led to several fatalities in 2005.

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

Purnima Devi observed the critical status of the stork in the villages of Assam, where residents had tremendous dislike for the bird. She initiated a community-based conservation programme to protect the species and became the driving force behind the 400 all-women ‘Hargila Army’, which has devoted a decade to protecting the endangered stork from extinction. As a part of the initiative, education modules were prepared and awareness programmes were conducted for specific target groups such as; the nest tree owners, women, children and the staff members of local police and the forest department in order to motivate them to conserve the bird. The stork was associated with a Hindu Deity’s (Lord Vishnu) mount. During the bird’s breeding season, programmes similar to festivities held for pregnant Assamese women, are organised. This has garnered a lot of attention from the community members. The village youth now monitor nests and report any nest falls to the local police and Forest Department, who rescue the nestling and transfer it to the Assam State Zoo, where it is cared for until it is fit to be released. The Hargila army have reached out to 10,500 women in rural Assam through a Pledge Programme and provided them with training on environment conservation and created livelihood opportunities by imparting handloom skills. The Hargila Army members have now formed self help groups who, with looms provided through the Greater Adjutant Conservation Program, decorate the Gamosa (traditional towels) and Mekhela Chador (traditional attire) with stork motifs and spread conservation messages through exhibitions of their handloom products in India and abroad, leading to worldwide awareness and recognition for the conservation of the Hargila. Every breeding season, as the birds lay their eggs, Purnima Devi organizes stork baby showers, featuring the same rituals as those performed for expectant Assamese mothers. The intervention has resulted in a significant increase in the number of nests in the area, which has increased from a mere 40 nests in 2007, to 270 in 2020. The rare bird has found a safe haven in this nesting colony, where now one can find more than 50 percent of its global population. In addition, not a single case of tree felling has been registered since 2010, resulting in conservation of approximately 50,000 trees across approximately 800 hectares in the Kamrup District. These trees improve soil fertility and reduce soil erosion in the wetland area. In addition to providing aesthetic beauty, they are act as carbon sink and regulate the ambient temperature. Purnima Devi Barman has successfully pioneered artificial assisted breeding platform in 2017 and 2018 in Pachariya village in Kamrup which lead to raise three chicks in the wild. She also collaborated with the Assam State Zoo which artificially hatched a pair of Greater Adjutant chicks within the zoo enclosure, in 2019. The team now aspires to establish a Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre for the hatchlings, create a Community Conserved Area for the nesting colonies, establish a ‘Hargila Restaurant’- a common area for dumping food waste and encourage plantations along the wetlands to enhance the bird habitat.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

Dr.Purnima Devi Barman, won the India Biodiversity Awards (IBA) under the category ‘Conservation of Threatened Species’ in 2016.

Dr.Purnima Burman

Tel. +91 8876429654

Email: Email: purnima.aaranyak@gmail.com

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